October 13 - In 2008, Carson Carroll had an idea that put in motion the foundation of what has grown to become the Washington, D.C. metropolitan area’s premier travel baseball organization.
Carroll, who had been coaching with the Vienna Mustangs program and later served as the junior varsity coach at Oakton, wanted to create a new program that would compete on a national level and create opportunities for area players to be seen by college coaches.
So the former UC Irvine standout and minor league infielder along with Bill Grossman and Jeff Willis went to work. They met with legendary former West Springfield coach Ron Tugwell and Rob Hahne, who would become the director of the Northern Virginia Travel Baseball League. Tugwell and Hahne had a travel program, the Virginia Cardinals, that Carroll wanted to team up with.
From that meeting, the Stars were born.
“That was at the start of showcase baseball, and it was, ‘You’ve got to get out to these events and in front of these colleges and then they’ll start recruiting the kids’,” Carroll said. “So we said, ‘Ok, let’s do it’. It just kind of developed from there.”
The program has since taken on a handful of monikers - the NVTBL Stars, the Prospect Stars, the DeMarini Stars, and now the Marucci-sponsored Stars Showcase Baseball … we simply refer to them as the Marucci Stars.
“It started with that 2011 recruiting class, that was a really good group and they did well in their events,” Carroll said. “But we realized it was just kind of a progression where it’d start off with winning a pool and next thing you know, you’re making a run. I always expected that team with Luke Willis and Kenny Towns and [Michael] Katz to win every game.”
Eight years ago, Carroll added former Major League outfielder Mike Colangelo to the program’s leadership. They’ve since switched roles, with Colangelo becoming the owner of the Stars and Carroll the general manager. Eventually, Colangelo’s Patriots of NOVA high school program and Virginia Stars youth program would be absorbed. A few years later, in 2015, the Stars added the recently-retired Shawn Camp, another local native who had just completed his 11-year Major League pitching career. Camp has since departed and is the new pitching coach at George Mason, where he and Colangelo starred in the mid-1990s.
The trio created a Big Three of sorts, and the Stars reached new levels while growing their reputation in recruiting circles.
“The key move was merging with Colangelo,” Carroll said. “When the Stars merged with Colangelo, you looked at those teams right out of the gate, and it was crazy. In 2016 alone, we had 50 D1 commits in our program. So there are several points along the way that helped the program get to where it is.”
The organization has had a wealth of talented players and coaches join the fold as it has grown its brand. The top 2012 team that went 10-1 and advanced to the semifinals at the Perfect Game WWBA 18U National Championship included future pro players such as Joey Bartosic (Oakton), Logan Farrar (Woodbridge), Alec Grosser (T.C. Williams), Andre Scrubb (C.D. Hylton) and Tyler Zombro. Carroll’s team the following summer was led by Brian Mims (Forest Park) and Nick Feight (Battlefield), two additional future draft picks. And the 2016 graduating class just had four players - Logan Driscoll (Lake Braddock), Jake Agnos (Battlefield), Jamie Sara (West Potomac) and Carter Bach (Centreville) - drafted following their junior years in college.
The constant has been Carroll, who has coached the program’s top teams for over a decade and helped develop over 300 Division I players and two dozen future draft picks. While leading the Stars in major tournaments and showcase events, he has built a reputation as a tough out while skippering the regional program against powerhouse teams that draw players from across the country.
That continued last week, when his team advanced to the semifinals at the Perfect Game WWBA Underclass World Championship in Fort Myers, FL. It marked the 13th time in 29 appearances at Perfect Game qualifiers and national tournaments - which include the Underclass event, the WWBA National Championship in Cartersville, GA and the WWBA World Championship in Jupiter, FL along with associated qualifiers - that Carroll has led teams to bracket play. At one point from 2015-17, he led his Stars teams through pool to elimination play eight straight times at those events.
The longer the 60-year-old does it, the more the numbers and milestones pile up. He guided teams to a 25-game unbeaten streak in pool play at the WWBA National Championship from 2014-18 and has gone undefeated in pool play 10 times at Perfect Game national-level tournaments. His teams’ 10 losses in elimination play at those tournaments have come by a total of 22 runs. They’ve also had success at other major tournaments at Diamond Nation in New Jersey and the Cincinnati Flames Tournament of Champions in Ohio.
“When you get in those play-to-win tournaments, I don’t care what kind of team you give Carson Carroll, he finds a way to win,” Colangelo said. “He took a team of 13 kids down to Fort Myers [last week] and beat teams like the East Cobb Astros or Orlando Scorpions that are bringing players from different states and a 100-mile radius and with a 22 to 24-man roster.
“He watches for little things that may give him an advantage in a game. I’ve been in the dugout with him or in the stands watching him, and there will be two or three plays a game where something will happen that will give them a momentum swing back to them or even more momentum. He takes that winning approach to those tournaments probably better than any coach around.”
Carroll’s track record of developing talent and desire to help players get to the next level has made him a go-to for college coaches. “It’s like they’ve hired him,” said Grossman, who coached with Carroll with the Mustangs and Stars from 2004-17. “I’ve seen it. ‘Carson, we need a left-handed pitcher’ or ‘We need a solid lockdown middle infielder’. And so many times he’d say, ‘I got one’. And a couple weeks later, I’d hear about the kid committing somewhere.”
Carroll’s energy is still evident each time he gets to the field at a time in his life when most are content to retire to the couch. He was able to pull double-duty for years traveling around the country to tournaments while working for the government (he’s since retired), and has been fortunate to have an understanding and supportive sidekick in his wife, April. Their three sons - Chad, Tyler and Mitchell - all played at Oakton and for the Stars before playing Division I ball, and Chad is now the coach at Gonzaga (D.C.).
Players continue to respond to a man who is quick to give them the credit, but who also holds them accountable. “If the player performs, they get offers. But if the player doesn’t perform, they don’t,” Carroll said. “The players commit themselves. What we try and do is help the process along by trying to get coaches out there to see them. And those are the moments that make me feel good.”
Added Grossman: “What always attracted me to him was that he had that fire and passion, and you just fed off of it. Kids who thrived really fed off it. He doesn’t hold back, as soon as a mistake is made and there’s something to improve it’s out of his mouth. He’ll get in your face, but in the next five minutes you’ll see him down the line talking to that same kid with his arm around him. I could tell every year that kids respected him because of that.”
That respect also exists from his peers.
“He’s such a good coach that kids find a way to reach their potential and a lot of times overachieve. He’s able to get that out of kids,” Colangelo said. “He’s just a winner. I’ve always said it, ‘Winning coaches find a way to win, losing coaches find a way to lose’.
“He just finds a way to get the job done and put himself in a position to win.”
Photo of Carson Carroll by Sabeena Hickman