It’s been a while since the Longley name has been associated with Cleveland State baseball, but with the signing of recent Walker Valley graduate Caleb Longley it is hoped the combination will once again bring success to the program.
“I’ve been going there (to Cougar Field) since I was a little boy. That’s where I developed my love for the game,” the younger Longley said upon accepting an opportunity to play for the program his dad, Steve Longley, led to a runner-up finish at the 1980 Junior College World Series.
“Even though Dad quit coaching there (1993) before I was born (1995), he would take me to the games,” Caleb related. “It has always been a dream of mine to play for Cleveland State.”
There’s one higher dream of Longley’s that could supersede the opportunity to don the Cougar blue — an opportunity to play professional baseball.
Having been talked to by several pro scouts about the possibility of being taken in the Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft next month, Longley has been firm in his discussions with them.
“I told them if I wasn’t taken in one of the upper rounds, then I felt my best chance (to improve his draft status) would be to play at Cleveland State,” Longley expressed. “It’s not that I think I’m something special, but I’m being realistic. The way it is, your signing bonus is what you are going to have to live on for the next three or four years.”
Longley drew interest from several NCAA Division I programs, with Belmont University working the hardest to sign him, while Volunteer State has also been after his services. “If I’m going to play college ball, Cleveland State is where I want to do it,” he said.
“Playing here (at Walker Valley) has meant a lot to me,” Longley added. “The third place run in the (TSSAA) state tournament last year was special. The relationships I built here are priceless.”
“Coach Poly (Mike Policastro) is getting a good one,” declared Mustang head coach Joe Shamblin. “Caleb is one of the best hitters to ever come through here. He’s a great kid and a very hard worker. I’m really going to miss him and his dad (the elder Longley has been a volunteer assistant to the program for the last four seasons).”
“He was always up here hitting and working on his own more than anyone since Brandon Turner,” Shamblin added.
After playing some his freshman season, Longley was the starting first baseman for the Mustangs for the past three seasons, hitting in the heart of the batting order. He finished his high school career with 105 hits, including 29 doubles, six home runs and 75 runs driven in.
A Tennessee Baseball Coaches Association Super Sophomore, he also made the all-region team in 2011. An All-District 5-AAA performer the past two seasons, Longley finished the 2013 season with a .379 batting average, a .461 on base percentage and a .558 slugging percentage with eight doubles and a trio of homers in his 36 hits. He also had a .667 batting average with runners in scoring position.
“Caleb is a really good hitter. I’ve been watching him since he started coming to our (summer) camps when he was 11 or 12 years old,” commented Coach Policastro. “He will be able to come right in and handle college pitching right away. He has a tremendous passion to play and has worked hard at his craft. He’s the kind of player we want (at Cleveland State).”
Coming off a disappointing 27-20 season, the Cougars were just 13-13 in TJCCAA play. “We are going to have to replace 15-18 guys. We are looking to improve our offense,” Policastro related. “We feel like Caleb will help us in that direction. We’ve signed seven in the early period, mainly pitchers and middle infielders, but we are still looking for about six bats.”
Longley has already been attending Cleveland State through the dual-enrollment program. “I went to class more there (CSCC) than I did here (WVHS) this past year,” explained Longley, a Walker Valley Graduate of Distinction with a 3.8 grade point average. “I already have 12 credit hours done, plus it has also helped me go ahead and make the adjustment from high school to college.”
The always-smiling young man was also quick to credit his parents, Steve and Angie Longley, with success. “Mom and Dad supported me all along. They never pushed me into playing, but encouraged me in my decisions. Dad has always been there to keep me straight and to work with me on my game. He’s very good at what he does and I have benefited from his knowledge and experience.”
Steve Longley coached the Cleveland State baseball program from 1975-81 and then again from 1986-93. He also taught at the school for several years even when he wasn’t coaching.
While baseball has always been his sport, the younger Longley played wide receiver for the football Mustangs last fall. Walker Valley snapped a 16-game losing streak by winning its first three games and then went on to qualify for the TSSAA football playoffs with an overall 5-5 record.