As a high school student Ben Winter became a one-person recruiting service. And who was his client? That would be Winter, a baseball standout from Ellicott City.
Going into his senior year at Centennial High, Winter estimates that he sent out about 50 emails to various college coaches, with a focus on Division I schools within a five-hour radius from his home in Howard County.
One of the first to show interest was Mike Gottlieb, the long-time coach at Division I Towson University.
"Towson was also the first that put an offer on the table," said Winter, 22, who was a two-time Howard County baseball Player of the Year.
Winter said that Gottlieb gave him about two weeks to decide on the offer of a partial baseball scholarship.
"It was a good offer," said Winter, who accepted.
It turned out to be a good decision, as Winter broke into the starting lineup as a freshman and never left. He was a third-team All-Colonial Athletic Association outfielder as a sophomore in 2010, when he played in all 55 games and hit .343.
Last year, as a junior, he batted in every spot in the lineup and hit .293 with just one error in 105 chances in the outfield. Winter, hardly an imposing figure at 5-foot-9 as a left-handed hitter, ended his college career on May 24 as the Tigers lost, 14-9, to Virginia Commonwealth in the double-elimination CAA tournament at James Madison University in Harrisonburg, Va.
Winter had an RBI in that game, and in the previous game, a 16-8 win over George Mason, he had a hit and three RBIs. While he finished the season with an average of .228, Winter had 28 RBIs on 41 hits with seven doubles, two triples and two homers.
"Ben was an extremely versatile player for Towson. He is the type of player that coaches love because you can hit him anywhere in the lineup. He can handle the bat, run and he played a solid centerfield against us," said Jeff Palumbo, a VCU assistant coach.
"Ben did a lot of things well," Gottlieb said of Winter. "He is a good, solid player." The veteran coach said that Winter was not a spectacular player, but one you had to watch on a regular basis to appreciate his value to a team. Winter may not be a pro prospect but he was solid at the college level. "There is nothing wrong with that," Gottlieb said.
Towson began the year 9-6 in CAA play and ended up 15-15 in league games.
"We started off in the conference very hot. It was our best start in the conference ever," noted Winter, who gained a full baseball scholarship for his senior season. "But we lost two starting pitchers to injuries and we had to start scraping for pitching."
Winter, who was 19-4 as a pitcher at Centennial, was one of several Howard County products on the Towson roster this season. Others included sophomore pitcher Chris Acker (Atholton); freshman pitcher Paul Beers (Atholton); sophomore infielder Mike Draper (Mount St. Joseph's) and junior pitcher Sean Thompson (Curley). Draper hit .293 in 41 at bats, Acker was 4-4 with an ERA of 5.04 and Beers was 1-2, 6.85.
While the Major League Baseball First-Year Player draft runs June 4-6, Winter does not expect to hear his name called. "It would be nice but I don't see it happening. I would not mind being a coach somewhere, perhaps a Little League coach," said Winter, who is undecided about his career plans after he finishes his course work in a few weeks.
Winter finished his last exam of the spring semester on May 22 and about 30 minutes later was on the team bus headed to the CAA tournament at JMU. An economics major, he did not have much down time after Towson ended the season (at 27-31) in the tourney: he began taking one summer class online May 29 and will finish his studies in late June at the suburban Baltimore campus with a grade-point average around 3.0.
Winter spent the past three summers playing for the Baltimore Redbirds in the Cal Ripken Collegiate League. He is no longer eligible to play since he has finished his college career, but Winter does have at least one baseball item on his calendar in June.
He hopes to head to Camden Yards the weekend of June 22-24 to see the Orioles host the Washington Nationals and rookie utility player Steve Lombardozzi (Atholton), a former teammate on the Columbia Reds.
Winter said he is envious leaving the Towson athletic program at this time. The football team made the national playoffs last season and is getting new turf at Johnny Unitas Stadium. A new arena is being built that will be the home for the school's basketball teams, as well as other sports. It is slated to open in the spring of 2013. "I am a little jealous knowing these sports are getting a new arena," he said.
Notes: Ellicott City resident Nick Natoli, a former teammate with Winter at Towson, was recently sent up from the low Class A South Atlantic League to the Class AA Portland (ME) Sea Dogs of the Eastern League in the Boston Red Sox farm system. Portland begins a series at Bowie, a farm team of the Orioles, on June 12. All three games, from June 12-14, begin at 7:05 p.m. Natoli, who hit .195 with Greenville (SC) in the South Atlantic League, had one hit in his first seven at bats with Portland as a shortstop.