Boomer Collins is swinging to become first pro baseballer to turn T20 cricket pro

Travis M. Smith | @travis5mith tsmith@theglenrosereporter.com Managing Editor
Collins spent ten days working with Julien Fountain in a batting cage in downtown Waxahachie before hopping the pond to chase his newest dream.

WAXAHACHIE – As rain continued to saturate the street behind an old, rusty, sheet metal warehouse in downtown Waxahachie, a muffled “crack” of a wooden bat striking a leather ball could be heard coming from within.

One catch – the bat is flat and the ball is bouncing. Boomer Collins is now eight days into his training to become the first U.S. born professional baseball player to transition into professional cricket, and is en route to Bangalore, India to begin chasing his newest dream on an “exploratory” type mission.

“Firstly, I will be coaching Boomer at a cricket academy, much like we have already been doing in Texas,” said Boomer’s newest coach, Julien Fountain, of the hop across the pond. The two will also conduct clinics to teach cricketers the finer points of defense and power hitting using a baseball-style approach, Fountain added.

“After that, we will be speaking to the media, and I will be trying to get some scouts to come look at him while he is there,” Fountain continued. “[…] We already have him signed up on a draft list for a professional T20 tournament in the Pakistan Super League, but whether he plays or not will be determined by whether he is drafted or not.

“He may have to come back to the States and play some amateur cricket here, but this is a completely new path. This is a path that no one has taken before, so we are having to pave our own way.”

A 2008 graduate of Waxahachie High School, Collin’ skills as a quarterback on the gridiron and centerfielder on the state runner-up baseball team were unquestioned. The natural talent he possessed, and handful of accolades he received, helped to land him a scholarship to play baseball at the University of Nebraska. After two seasons as a Cornhusker, he then transferred to Dallas Baptist University for two of the school’s most successful seasons in its young baseball history.

During his two-year stint at DBU, Collins crushed 20 home runs, drove in 100 runs, slugged 39 doubles, and collected 158 hits for a .320 batting average over 119 games. Numbers that led Major League Baseball’s Toronto Blue Jays to sign the free agent outfielder following his senior season in 2013.

However, he was not a coveted piece of the Blue Jays’ puzzle. After proving his prowess in rookie ball, he made his way up the ranks through low-A Lansing and eventually to high-A Dunedin during the latter portion of 2015. During his three-year minor league career, Collins posted a very respectable .261 batting average with nine home runs, 89 runs batted in and 246 hits in his 652 plate appearances spread over 186 games.

In fact, during the final two weeks of the season, Collins was eight-for-16 at the plate with two home runs and four runs batted in, which prompted tweets such as, “.@BoomerCollins19 likes playing in September. Another home run today. 2nd 3-hit game (with HR) this month,” posted by Blue Jays from Away on Sept. 6, and even a tweet from the official MLB minor leagues’ Twitter account notifying its 118,000-plus followers that there was “CYCLE WATCH: @BoomerCollins19 needs a triple through six innings for @DunedinBlueJays,” on Sept. 4.

The 25-year-old was stuck in a holding pattern as a role player up until receiving word of his release on Nov. 2.

Enter Julien Fountain.

Fountain, who hails from England, was a member of Great Britain’s Olympic baseball team and has been a staple in the world of cricket for decades where he has become known around the globe as the go-to for baseball-based fielding skills. His drills and techniques may seem simple to baseball players and fans in the U.S., but were an eye-opener to the cricket world.

Then a revelation struck Fountain like a Collins rope to left field - instead of introducing baseball techniques and drills to cricketers, why not infuse baseball players to the talent pool, instead?

That is why in Jan. 2015, Fountain launched Switch Hit 20, a program designed to assist professional baseball players, who are still in the prime of their careers, with a transition into the world of T20 tournament cricket.

T20 is short for Twenty-Twenty, a fast-paced brand of cricket developed in the United Kingdom in 2004. The new twist on the age-old game, places an emphasis on increasing fan experience and power hitting, all while shortening the game to three hours. Each team receives 20 overs – an “over” is a set of six pitches – during their respective half inning.

According to Fountain, a normal pathway to professional T20 cricket would involve a player establishing himself in his home country’s professional league prior to making the jump. However, there is no professional league in the United States, which is why Boomer has to learn on the fly – and he is doing so quite well, Fountain added.

“We have been training for about eight days, and Boomer has made incredible progress,” Fountain said. “The thing is, that it is not really fair to compare [cricket professionals to Boomer] because he has only been hitting a cricket ball for a week, but I would probably say he hits a cricket ball as well as any professional cricketer – easily.

“He hits the ball as well as any of the top professional cricketers that I have seen during my time, but it is a work in progress.”

The initial process began in January when Fountain reached out via LinkedIn, and it did not take long for Collins to jump on board with the idea. The two exchanged phone numbers and immediately began discussing the game of cricket, Boomer’s situation with the Blue Jays farm system, and Fountain’s plan.

“At first I was a little skeptical,” Boomer admitted, “but I did my due diligence. I looked up and watched as much as I could about Julien and about his project. […] We just developed a good relationship, and then all of that skepticism kind of went away and it turned into excitement.

“I am feeling more comfortable every single day. At first it was a little different to see a ball bounce off of the ground, but all you have to do is change your vision. It is just about adjusting your vision and adjusting your swing. I am super excited about the opportunity.”

For Collins, the biggest change he has had to make is a change in his approach with the bat in his hand.

“I would say the big thing is the change in the different swings,” Collins explained. “Sometimes you have to go from a horizontal swing to a vertical swing and even to a defensive swing, whereas in baseball, you are trying to put your best swing on every pitch. In cricket, that isn’t always the best option.  It is more about staying alive as long as you can so you can do damage on the next pitch.

Life has come at Collins fast over the last 12 months. He lost his father, Tom, to cancer last January, his sister, Bridgett, will walk the aisle this January, he and his wife, Rachel, celebrated their one-year wedding anniversary over the weekend, and on Monday, signed an endorsement deal with Cricket Store Online to be his official kit provider through 2016.

If he is to succeed on the cricket pitch and become the first US born professional baseball player to transition in T20 professional cricket, he will need more than hands-on coaching and new equipment – Boomer will need mind his wickets, watch for grubbers and googlies, and middle a few balls into the seats.