PADUCAH -- Baseball started as a dream for Shawn Yarbrough, but not even he could imagine where the pursuit of his dream would take him.
Yarbrough had the opportunity over the years to follow his dream through high school sports, college sports and independent league both as a player and coach. After graduating from Lone Oak High School in 2000, he went on to play as an all-conference player for two years at John A. Logan Junior College, playing in the Junior College World Series. He was recruited for his junior year by the University of Mississippi for Coach Mike Bianco and graduated from McNeese State in Louisiana.
Yarbrough played two years for the Fort Worth Cats and returned to Paducah to open a baseball academy with Jim Grief, a scout with the Cincinnati Reds. He served as the head baseball coach 2008-2013 at the former Mid-Continent University and in 2014 as an assistant coach at UT-Martin. He worked with Tremayne Donald as a hitting coach for two years at Ballard County, but now focuses on the Prospects as well as being a special education teacher in Graves County.
Yarbrough took his dream, his talents and his skills and set out to fill in areas that he felt were missing in western Kentucky. His desire to help boys grow into better players and young men while pursuing their own dreams became a reality through the River City Academy and Kentucky Prospects Baseball.
This reality also reached into the Marshall County area. MCHS baseball students have benefited over the years as college opportunities were signed in pursuit of continuing their love of the sport.
River City Academy for Baseball and Softball located in Lone Oak opened in 2013. The academy works much like a gym membership. Families join the facility and with a monthly fee have access to training space for pitching, hitting and fielding, as well as private lessons. Yarbrough said that the facility offers something for every level of athlete, "from those just learning to hold a bat to higher-end players in the area."
River City Academy is frequented by baseball and softball players that use their time for individual and group practice. This makes additional practice a financial possibility for all families, especially those with multiple children, giving players access to training equipment for a nominal monthly fee at a family rate.
Kentucky Prospects is a team name that has grown far beyond its western Kentucky beginnings in a rapid amount of time. Yarbrough admitted that the Prospects have become so much more than he could ever have imagined.
Yarbrough said that he took a group of kids that he wanted to see on their way out and just help them along with getting college scholarships and having an opportunity to be seen. "We started to realize that this was such a good thing, not only for that age group but potentially younger age groups, if the right people were involved and the right game plan was laid out effectively."
Yarbrough desired to have a graduated program with an attitude of education that grew baseball skills and training relative to the physical growth and development of players. He said, "It wasn't so much about just seeking the competition or going to try to win every ball game, but as much about teaching the game in its proper manner to younger kids." This program would begin with basics that were not limited to balls, bats and gloves but would also include respect, brotherhood, failure, and body language.
The program is divided into two groups that work together to form this graduated-style program. The 7-12U boys work to teach and train and get as many players just learning the game. They have two teams in every age group, "keeping the focus in our backyard" said Yarbrough. "Our Kentucky team, the Kentucky Prospects."
The 13-17 program, the college-prep program, is designed for young men who desire to take their skill level to the college level for exposure, recruiting and scholarship opportunities around the country. The program travels around the country playing a high level of baseball.
The Prospects are coached by dads, former high school players and coaches, former college players and coaches and former draft picks and professional players. The men work together to form a network with the connections that they have to prepare the players to compete for college exposure.
For the 13-17 program, Yarbrough stated, "Our job at that point is not just teaching them baseball but how to present themselves to college coaches. We want them to understand what body language looks like. We want them to know what they look like on the field, whether they are succeeding or failing. What college coaches are looking for. We need to flood those kids with these concepts so that when they go out there, there's no pressure. They just play the game of baseball."
The Prospects began in 2013 as one team that was made of players that Yarbrough had trained privately since returning to Paducah in 2005. The next year, they added a second team and a third the third year.
Today, there are over 200 players in the program with 15 teams and over 40 coaches, and still growing. With the 13-17 program being used by students that are strategic players in their high school programs, the Prospects focus on a short June-July schedule and a fall schedule allowing these players to avoid conflicts, at the same time growing in the school off-season.
As the Prospects have grown, there is another element of the program that has been waiting for its time. Adding softball to the Prospects program has been something that has been in the works but required time to set the framework in place. In order for a Lady Prospects program to succeed, it needed to carry the same value. Yarbrough revealed that the Lady Prospects are now part of the reality but was not sure if it would be ready for the same August try-out date as the Prospects.
The Prospects are comprised of players from as far away as St. Louis, Mo., Nashville, Illinois and Nashville, Tennessee. Several players from across Marshall County have played with the Prospects. These players come together to form teams that travel to play in tournaments across several states from the more local 7-12U recreational level to intense scout tournament weekends.
"The landscape of college recruiting has changed a lot. You have college scouts showing up to watching these bigger events in Atlanta, Florida, Texas and we want to be sure that our kids are in front of those guys. In order to do so, we have to be able to put teams together like this to be able to take on the road and put our kids of front of those coaches and those scouts for those opportunities."
Yarbrough went on to say that they wanted players locally to have opportunities that kids in the Louisville and Lexington area have had for years.
In the past six years, there have been close to 100 college scholarships awarded to Prospects players including MCHS students, with over 60 Division One scholarships, as well as three picks in the major league draft.
Mike Miller Park plays a very critical role for the Kentucky Prospects. Not only do the teams play and practice frequently at the park, the Prospects use the facilities to host their team try-outs in August. The location is well-situated for most players.
Yarbrough had a desire that pre-dated the growth of the Prospects. He dreamed that he could build something in which the community could be involved, the community could be pulled together and the community could hoist up.