Burroughs senior signs deal to play college baseball at Colorado Mesa University in 2018

For Chase Cracraft, the entire thing – pomp and circumstance and all – was a big sigh of relief.

After all of the work, the tough decisions to make, the piles of homework, the hours spent swinging his bat or throwing on the mound, the Burroughs senior baseball pitcher and infielder reached a goal on Monday that he’s had since he was 7.

He signed his letter of intent to play college baseball beginning fall 2018.

The school, Colorado Mesa University, is in the city of Grand Junction, four hours west of Denver. The Mavericks have enjoyed recent success on the diamond, winning three conference tournaments in four years and reaching the semifinals of the NCAA Division II College World Series in 2017.

More importantly, Cracraft felt comfortable at the school. With mild weather due to its location west of the Rockies and chemistry with the coach, his decision was made almost immediately.

“When I got down in the recruiting process, I knew that I wanted to leave California,” he said. “I wanted to open up and find somewhere where there were mountains and this thing called water.”

Everything, as his father, Richard, said, is a culmination of his passion for the sport.

“He’s hard-working and it’s from a very early age,” he said. “He demonstrated a real aptitude and his athleticism was really high compared with his peers. Baseball was what he loved.”

Starting out, Cracraft, who throws and does just about everything else right-handed, emulated his older brother, Chad, to learn how to hit left-handed. Eventually, Chad switched back to batting right-handed when he went into high-school baseball, but Chase stuck with it.

Cracraft said that he’s been talking about playing college baseball since he was seven, but it wasn’t until going into his freshman year of high school that he realized just how much work it would take to get to that level and the amount of motivation he would need.

“There are times when you are having a rough day in the (batting) cage, nothing seems to be working, or you had a game where you knew someone was watching you and went 0-4 (at the plate) or got lit up on the mound,” he said. “You just have to push through. It’s not for everybody to want to work that hard, and I was lucky to have that immense amount of support from coaches, friends, and my parents most of all who were always there to steer me back on track when I wanted to give up. It all paid off.”

Then there was the “road warrior” mentality, by way of many times spent traveling to games or practices with his travel-ball club. Those moments brought him closer to his family, as he recalled singing in the car with his mom, Lori.

“That’s why we’ve done what we’ve done the last three years, why we’ve been willing to be road warriors,” Lori said. “Because we’ve always said if you do your part, we’ll make this happen for you.”

That includes making food that he might detest – such as eggs – in order to keep him healthy.

Richard, who has coached Cracraft over the years, said that two parts of his game have improved the most: hitting and pitching.

“The hitting was abysmal in the early years,” Richard said. “He was an athlete, so he had success. He would not have gotten to where he’s at if he had not learned to hit.”

In 2013, just prior to his high-school years, the light bulb turned on. With help from coach Evan Sherritt, Cracraft went from simply hitting athletically to hitting fundamentally. 

“That is why he was a strong consideration for playing on the varsity team as a sophomore at Burroughs,” Richard said. “He was always defensively very strong, and he could pitch.”

Speaking of his arm, as of late, Cracraft has improved on the mound, raising his value even more among colleges.

“I said, ‘You’re going to have to throw a bullpen (session) every five days,’ ” Richard said. “Literally every five days, he worked from June until he got in the meat of his travel-ball competition, and he excelled.”

That included a trip to Arizona, where Cracraft pitched a complete game, seven-inning two-hitter.

“He arrived that day,” Richard said. “It was like, holy cow, everything that he’s been showing hints of against college teams was all coming together.”

Other than Colorado Mesa, Central Washington also gave him a look, and he was really close to signing with that school.

Colorado cashes in 

Cracraft first learned about Colorado Mesa through his Team Easton travel baseball club’s pitching coach, Mike Lara. While playing for the club, Cracraft transitioned into the outfield, a position that he was unfamiliar with. Being of a sound baseball mind, he adapted easily, and that became advantageous during his workout at Colorado Mesa. 

Soon enough, Mavericks head coach Chris Hanks expressed interest in signing him.

“When he offered me the opportunity, I knew right then and there that’s what I wanted to do,” Cracraft said. “There was no question about it from my end. I knew right there that this is what I wanted.”

So, the next day, Cracraft called Hanks from his hotel room to verbally commit.

“I was excited,” Cracraft said. “It was nice to have him share that excitement back. When I hung up the phone, he actually called me back a minute later and asked for a picture to make it official. I was beyond happy to do that.”

Of course, a moment like that needed some permanence.

“I audiotaped it,” Richard said. “He didn’t realize it. I got half of his conversation. … There’s nothing more for a parent in terms of high from that. I was ecstatic.”

Baseball one minute, books the next

While, admittedly, at times he would want to focus solely on baseball, Cracraft would get consistent reminders – whether they were from his parents or his coaches – that in order to reach his goal, he had to make room to hit the books. 

“He would just do it because he knew what the expectation was,” Richard said. “We also heard from Mike, ‘You’re going to get a lot more opportunities if your grades were high.’ ”

Added Lori: “He’d give up his lunches. Instead of going to lunch with his friends, he’d be in there doing work, making up a test or getting notes from the teacher, so he knew what he had to do and took care of business.”

When he arrives at Colorado Mesa, Cracraft plans to study exercise science, a program at the university that features facilities that raised his eyebrows.

“Colorado Mesa has a top-of-the-line human performance lab that is open to anyone,” he said. “You get to use it the first day you walk into class.”

Further down the line, he wants to go into physical therapy, something he’s been interested in since he suffered a broken elbow at 11 years old. Being stuck in a cast, and eventually rehabbing through physical therapy, made him see the value of the job field. 

“It was like, ‘Wow, these people change lives.’ That’s how I felt,” he said. 

What’s in store

As for the Cracrafts, the nest gets emptier, and the road trips less frequent. So, what would they do with the extra time?

“I think we’ll go back to playing some tennis,” Lori said. “We used to play a lot of tennis, right?” (Richard sat stone-faced, then acquiesced.)

But in all reality, they’ll keep their eye out on their collegian, continuing to help him along the steps.

“Of course, I would love for him to be closer,” Lori said, “But I truly believe that this is the best place for him. You have to let your own wants go for the better of your child.”

Added Richard, “It’s scary for sure, but we knew that he would be more than (a car drive) away. With all of the options that he had, it was going to be a flight, an eight-, 10-, 12-, 19-hour drive. … That was the pill we swallowed a long time ago. Yeah, we’re going to be worried as any parent who will have their kid more than 10 minutes away. Fortunately, Chad has done it, so we have a little experience through that.”

Until then, it’s finishing off the senior year strong. Cracraft has already felt the senioritis sting; now that he has inked his deal, the pressure is gone and the countdown until fall ball gets louder. 

“It (senioritis) has already bitten me,” Cracraft said. “I just have to prevent it from spreading to the point of death. It’ll be hard. High school has been up and down through baseball reasons with work and all. My parents are obviously my biggest support, so they’ll keep me focused and in line with making sure my grades are up. Another big part of it is the academic scholarship money is dependent on how good my grades stay throughout the year, so I have that motivation that I’m actually going to get paid for better grades.”

In terms of on the diamond, Cracraft – who will enter the 2017 campaign batting .399 with two home runs, 27 RBIs, 14 doubles and 61 hits while pitching a 3.03 ERA with a 5-4 record and 29 strikeouts over a two-year varsity career – is looking forward to playing pressure-free baseball.

“The relief is here,” he said. “I don’t have to play to put up big numbers. I want to, but I don’t have that feeling that if I don’t succeed that my dream is not going to come true. So I can go out and play like I was 10 years old with my buddies and just go out, have fun and win games.”