Ball State baseball’s Florida getaway was more like a homecoming for CJ Alexander.
“It feels great,” Alexander said. “Being able to come down here and play in the warm weather is a blessing.”
The sophomore outfielder, born in Merrillville, Indiana, played baseball at Crown Point High School for two years before he and his family moved down to Florida.
There were two reasons why the family made the move, the first being that both Chuck and Pamela Alexander, CJ’s parents, retired and wanted to move somewhere warmer.
And the second — baseball.
“We were coming down a lot, coming down to this part of the world,” Chuck Alexander said. “We just thought, ‘well the kids are into baseball, so what a better place to come and play?’”
The five-game classic’s proximity to home gave the Alexander family a rare opportunity to come out and see CJ play for Ball State.
“Well, obviously, we get travel restricted based on the 1,200 miles of distance in between us, being Muncie and Cape Coral, so it makes it very difficult for us to come see him play,” Chuck Alexander said. “It’s refreshing for CJ too, you get to see the family and so it kind of rejuvenates him a little being such a long way from home.”
Finding Ball State
Growing up, CJ Alexander had one dream — to play for Ball State head coach Rich Maloney.
“I’ve always wanted to play for him,” he said. “I had opportunities to play down here [in Florida], but I really wanted to go play him and experience college baseball with him.”
That dream wasn’t expected to be fulfilled in Muncie, Indiana, but rather in Ann Arbor, Michigan.
As an 8-year-old, CJ and his younger brother Blaze, then 5 years old, started attending annual baseball camps hosted by Maloney, who was head coach of the University of Michigan’s baseball program at the time.
“CJ went to all of [Maloney’s] baseball camps, so CJ has always had this dream, he still has a picture of him and Rich when they were little,” Pamela Alexander said. “They got to know Rich really well.”
CJ’s childhood dream began to form into a reality late in his high school career.
In his final season at Bishop Verot High School in Fort Myers, Florida — a team that has made the state final four every season since 2011 — his father gave Maloney a call.
“CJ grew a lot lately, like all of a sudden he hit a growth spurt,” Maloney said. “Chuck said, ‘hey, I think you might want to take a look at CJ.’”
Maloney was impressed after seeing CJ in person, and he signed his National Letter of Intent to play at Ball State on Feb. 11, 2015.
A family game
The Alexander family’s ties with Maloney extend before CJ was born.
Chuck Alexander and Rich Maloney played together on the 1986 Western Michigan baseball team and have remained friends since.
“His [CJ’s] dad is one of my close friends, without questions,” Maloney said. “He was an outstanding pitcher in college and he raised his boys to be ballplayers and he’s got two good ones.”
The two remained close friends after their playing days, flying down to fish in Florida when CJ was 10 years old.
That close connection exposed CJ to Maloney growing up, but it was his skill that got him recruited to Ball State — Chuck Alexander wasn’t the first former teammate who has tried to convince Maloney to recruit their child.
“Because of where I’m at in my life, all of those guys are starting to have kids, and several of them wanted their kids to play,” Maloney said. “Some of them are good enough, and some of them aren’t.”
Turns out, CJ Alexander was good enough.
He hit .370 his senior season, as Bishop Verot finished 2015 as the Florida High School Athletic Association Class 4A runner-up, and his family was there every step of the way.
CJ, then a senior shortstop, lined up next to his brother Blaze, who played third base as a freshman, in their 6-4 loss to Trinity Christian in the state championship game.
“They got to play in the final game of that season together,” Chuck Alexander said. “Not many people get to say that they got to see their two kids play side-by-side in the state final game.”
That’s what made being able to attend the Snowbird Baseball Classic such a nostalgic moment for his mother. She hasn’t had the entire family together after her two oldest children, Sloane and CJ, went to college.
“I love it, we are a real close family,” Pamela Alexander said during Ball State’s double-header against Northeastern and Chicago State on March 4. “We support everybody when we go to whoever was competing, we were always together. So it was very difficult for Sloane to go off to college, and then for CJ to go off to college.”
Soon, Blaze will be gone too — the high school junior has committed to play baseball at the University of South Carolina. But for a few days, with Ball State playing five games in Florida, the Alexander family was all in the same place.
“To have everybody here together is my ideal day,” Pamela Alexander said.