A CONVERSATION WITH THE COLLIERS
LOU COLLIER AND HIS SON, CAM, TALK BASEBALL, BAT FLIPS AND BLACK PARTICIPATION IN THE GAME
BY JERRY CRASNICK
If all goes according to plan, Cam Collier has a long and productive run ahead of him. After signing with the Cincinnati Reds as the 18th pick in the 2022 first-year player draft, he begins his professional career, at age 18, as a fixture on MLB top prospect lists.
Every once in a while, he’ll get a reminder that the old man was no slouch.
Lou Collier, 49, grew up playing baseball in Chicago and excelled at Triton College, the same school that produced Hall of Famer Kirby Puckett and longtime big league outfielder Lance Johnson. He played eight seasons in the majors with the Pirates, Brewers, Expos, Red Sox and Phillies before retiring in 2007.
“Cam has met enough of my friends, guys who played with and against me, and he’s heard how good I was, how hard I worked and how I respected the game,’’ Lou says. “Every now and again, I have to remind him that I was a pretty good player to play in the big leagues. But to be honest with you, he's way ahead of where I was at his age.’’
While Lou continues to be active in youth baseball development and is busy coaching Team USA in the World Baseball Classic, Cam is focused on establishing himself at the Reds’ spring camp in Goodyear, Ariz. As Black History Month winds to a close, the Colliers -- father and son, coach and pupil -- sat down with the MLBPA for a cross-generational talk on baseball. The conversation has been edited for brevity and clarity.
Lou, when did you realize Cam might have a future in baseball
Lou: When Cam was about 12 years old, I told my friend Charles Peterson, ‘My son is pretty good, man. I think he has a chance.’ I played with Charles in the Pirates system and he was scouting with the St. Louis Cardinals.
The first thing Charles said is, ‘Is that the dad in you talking, or the baseball guy?’ I said, ‘No, it’s the baseball guy. I’m serious.’ And Charles said, ‘Well, if he’s got a chance to play, you need to get him out of Chicago, because we don’t sign guys hitting snowballs.’ I laughed, but that stuck with me.
What went into your decision to move the family from Chicago to Atlanta?
Lou: Once Cam got to an age where I knew he was serious about the game, I had to make a decision, ‘Are we gonna stay here where it's cold and he has to fight through the winters and practice in gyms, or move somewhere warmer to give him an even playing field where he can develop year-round?’
My daughter (Morgan) was graduating. It was her senior year. She got accepted into Spelman College in Georgia. Marquis Grissom and Marvin Freeman, two of my really good friends, were already down here. Cam was graduating eighth grade, so it all kind of came together. My wife looked at me like, ‘What are we waiting on?’ And we made a decision to move.
Cam, even though your dad had retired, did his baseball connections help prepare you for the road ahead?
Cam: Definitely -- especially moving to Georgia. With Marquis and Marvin there, it made me feel like I was in the clubhouse, because I could ask three different people about their experiences. When I was younger, I went through the Breakthrough Series and the Elite Development (Invitational), so I was meeting all the big league guys that my dad was friends with and learning their stories. I didn’t get to see my dad play, but I still got the same knowledge I would have been getting.
Did you play other sports growing up, or was it always about baseball?
Cam: I played other sports until about eighth grade. Then I got a little taste of travel ball, and I just put all my focus on baseball because I knew how hard it was and how much work needed to be put in. It was good that I played those other sports because it helped my body in different ways. But when I got to high school, I focused on baseball and just baseball.
What other sports did you play?
Cam: Just basketball. There’s a reason I quit. Chicago is a basketball city, so I definitely wasn't good enough to play there. I was like, ‘I suck, so I’m just going to stick with what I’m good at.’ I don’t like sucking at stuff. So I just stuck to baseball.
Lou, when did Cam take his biggest strides as a player?
Lou: I always played him two years up. So when he was seven, he was playing against kids who were nine and 10, and so forth. I started to see him hold his own and fall in love with the game. He started understanding his swing and what pitchers were doing, and he made adjustments. His IQ was high. He was young, but I saw him in games anticipating certain situations and understanding what to do beforehand. And then we would have conversations after the game, and it let me know, ‘I think we have something special.’
Do you consider yourself a cage rat, Cam?
Cam: Since the game is so hard, I try to be a cage rat as much as I can to fix up the little things that I don’t like. I don’t like it when I feel uncomfortable in my game. Whenever something is wrong, I really go hard at it.
You were born in 2004. Who were your favorite players to watch growing up?
Cam: I'm a really big Juan Soto fan. I respect his game and how he plays the game. I’ve tried to pattern my game after guys like that. And I’m a really big fan of Matt Chapman from the defensive side, and Nolan Arenado. I like a lot of the big-time third basemen.
What’s it like working as a father-son team? Do you butt heads at times?
Cam: Sometimes you butt heads, because you don't feel like you need your dad at third base telling you ‘run, run, run,’ or telling you to swing the bat in the box. But I felt like I definitely needed him as my coach, because he's the best coach you can have. Having him out there with me taught me more than anyone else could have.
Are there any particular pieces of advice from your dad that stuck with you?
Cam: There’s something he recently said: ‘Don’t let how you feel mess up what know.’ And right there that hit me in the head, because it’s a really good mindset to have. It’s something I can take with me as I go and start playing, and keep playing in my head. It’s some of the best knowledge my dad gave to me.
It’s Black History Month, and we’ve seen a lot written about how there aren’t as many Black players in the majors today -- only 7 to 8 percent of players on rosters. Do either of you have any thoughts as to why?
Cam: Everybody's not blessed to have the type of opportunity as a kid like me. I know so many kids in Chicago that love baseball and go play basketball because it’s cheaper. They love the game. They just don't have the ability to keep playing because their financial situation doesn't allow them. They need to incorporate something that helps the little kids financially so they can continue to grow. Then they’ll keep playing baseball instead of switching to basketball or football. The youth academies are helping get more kids into the game, especially RBI. But having more things like that will definitely help.
Lou: One of the reasons why I started the Lou Collier Baseball Association in Chicago was to create opportunities for inner city kids and kids of color to learn the game and learn life lessons. But you also need the resources to help these kids participate on these different travel teams. There are a lot of kids that love the game. They can play the game. They're everywhere. I've seen them all over. But it's a very expensive sport. Nowadays, a travel ball team is anywhere from $2,000 to $3,500. The good travel ball teams will take the best kids. They’ll take Cam. But what about the 100 other kids who need somewhere to play, who need the exposure and need the training and development?
The game is in a state where they want guys who are ready to go and play. Back in the day when I played, they took a kid like me that was considered a ‘raw’ talent and gave us time to figure it out. Nowadays coming out of high school, if you're not polished and ready to go, they're gonna pass on you. And the Division I schools are just like a minor league team. If you’re not ready and polished they're gonna pass on you.
The urban youth academies are great, but I think they need to be staffed with high level people who can develop. There should be an urban youth academy in every underserved area, the same way it is in the Dominican Republic where all 30 teams are represented. They are staffed 24 hours (a day), and these kids are able to come in there and eat, train and lift weights on a regular basis. The percentage of (Latinos) reaching the major leagues is directly reflective of that. The same thing can happen here in the States in those underserved areas. I think that’s how we can kind of bridge the gap.
Finally, since you two are from different generations, we’d like to get your takes on a budding phenomenon. Where do you stand on bat flips?
Lou: Well, for the last couple years, we’ve been in a bad flip era. And Cam got caught up in bat flipping a little bit and I got on him about it. I think that as long as you respect the game, there’s a place for the guy who gets the big home run to win the game to be excited, and maybe he flips his bat. As long as it’s respectful, I’m cool with it. But guys bat flipping in the first inning, or when they’re losing by five runs, or flipping bats into the dugout? That don’t fly with me at all, and never will.
Cam: I definitely piggyback on what he said. It gets to a point where it's too much, and it’s just embarrassing. When it gets to a point where you can’t control your emotions, it’s understandable. But you’ve got to have some feel and not overdo it. People take disrespect to it. If you do it to the pitcher, now that dude on deck, your teammate, has to take one to the ear because you want to bat flip in a second inning when you’re getting beat 10-0. I don’t feel like it’s something that’s bad. You’ve just got to understand the situation.