Aug 15, 2023
Iowa native Sean Gamble one of nation's top high school players
Sean Gamble walks to the backyard of his parents' Des Moines residence on a warm July night and finds a seat at a table. The high school junior smiles as he finds an open chair and is joined by his
Sean Gamble walks to the backyard of his parents' Des Moines residence on a warm July night and finds a seat at a table. The high school junior smiles as he finds an open chair and is joined by his father Kyle and his mother Christy.
“I love home,” Sean says.
Gamble enjoys every opportunity he gets to be around his family. These moments don’t come around for him as often as they do for most kids his age. The 17-year-old spends a large portion of the year at IMG Academy in Florida, honing his baseball skills.
“Just getting to hang out and be a family together is a good time,” Kyle says.
The time away isn’t easy. But it’s a sacrifice they’re all willing to make. After all, Sean has some high hopes. The young baseball star hopes to one day play in the major leagues. Living at the prestigious boarding school has already helped him become one of the top prep players in the country.
“He wanted this so badly,” Christy said. “And to see your child have a passion and such a strong desire for something, as a parent, that’s hard to ignore. Even if it’s a sacrifice for us.”
Sending Sean across the country to play baseball makes perfect sense when you think about how much he loves the game.
For him, it’s not just a love, though. It’s a calling that Sean endlessly pursued as he tried to get on the field, any baseball field, as much as he could as a kid. He tagged along with his big brother, Beau, to Raccoon River Little League. While Beau was playing, Sean went around to different fields and begged to fill in for other games. He roamed around fields after practice trying to get some extra reps from his coach or from other teams.
“I always told my parents that baseball was kind of my happy place,” he said.
Kyle began coaching Sean when he was 4 and noticed that his son not only had a unique passion for the game but a special skillset as well. Kyle watched other older players and realized Sean was ahead of the curve and had tons of potential.
His parents got him all the help they could so Sean could tap into that talent. They sent Sean and Beau to camps at IMG Academy, a well-known prep school that had developed some of the nation's top football, baseball, basketball and tennis players. The boys started with tennis camps but branched out into baseball. The camps became so regular on their schedules that they worked family vacations around them.
"Vacation was the camps," Kyle said with a smile.
Sean received instruction from some of the best baseball coaches in the nation, including Dan Simonds, the school’s director of baseball. Simonds is a former professional player and spent time as a roving instructor for the Baltimore Orioles and as a coach in the minor leagues. He also coached college baseball at Xavier and Miami. Simonds noticed 14-year-old Sean at one of IMG Academy’s camps and was impressed.
“The skillset was pretty special,” Simonds said.
Kyle figured with the right coaching and right environment, Sean could develop even more. Simonds figured IMG Academy would be the perfect fit for Sean. So they invited him to move to Florida and live at the boarding school where he could focus on baseball.
It was a great opportunity but also a giant sacrifice. Gamble would have to move far away and leave behind his family and friends. He talked it over with his parents and his brother. They debated what to do.
"I was young," Gamble said. "I needed to be totally on board. I realized the sacrifice that I would have on the family. They were willing to help me pursue my dreams. Once I got to my freshman year, I was ready. I wanted to play all day every day. I was ready to be outside. I was ready to get the reps and I was ready to be around people that were more like myself."
So he packed his bags, said goodbye to his family and moved to Florida to begin his baseball journey.
Gamble admits he got homesick at first and even thought about coming back to Iowa. His parents and the school helped with the transition by mapping out a schedule that allowed them to see one another every couple of weeks. Gamble came back during the fall a few times so he could watch Beau play football at Dowling Catholic. Kyle and Christy ventured down to the Sunshine State. They talk daily by text, calls or FaceTime.
"It's a little tough," Kyle said. "But we just kind of adapted to it."
Sean adapted, too. He made friends. His new home provided him with a chance to focus on baseball almost year- round, with an intense schedule that begins in late August and wraps up the year around Memorial Day. It may sound like a normal high school schedule. But it's the daily grind that's different.
There's plenty of academics, with classes all morning until around 11:20 a.m., and time to study throughout the evening. But the afternoons and early part of the night are spent on baseball practice and training from about 1:30 to 6 p.m.
The baseball activity varies by the day. Some days are focused on offense. Others are on team or individual defense. During a practice session, they’ll have a 15-minute agility warm-up with the program’s strength and conditioning coach. After that, they’ll play catch and then either go into a defensive or offensive session. The sessions include baserunning, working on bunt defense, relay throws or first-and-third situations. They'll then hit in a cage or on the field and lift weights.
The preparation builds better ballplayers and prepares them for a vigorous spring season. The schedule includes games and tournaments across the country against some of the top teams in the United States. Just this last year, Gamble played for the school's most prestigious squad, the national team. They went 25-0 and won the school's first MaxPreps Baseball National Championship. The team played games in Maryland, New York and Georgia.
"The amount of repetitions and the amount of real-life moving parts that I see when I'm practicing really, really, really, really helps," Gamble said.
Gamble has gotten better and better since moving to Florida.
During IMG Academy's championship season, Gamble belted a team-high seven home runs ... as a sophomore. Simonds believes the numbers tell just part of Gamble's story. He not only has power but also versatility, being able to play the infield at shortstop and the outfield. Simonds said Gamble is a slick fielder and boasts a strong left-handed bat that's improving by the day.
But one of his most promising tools is his baseball IQ. Simonds has been impressed with Gamble's ability to do the little things, like read balls off the bat and know when to take the extra base. He also raved about the Iowan's work relentless work ethic by getting in extra reps whenever he can.
"At a young age, he has some of those qualities that you really look for in players that advance and play at a higher level," Simonds said.
College coaches started catching wind of Gamble early on. Iowa and Wichita State both showed interest before he even played a high school game. Since then, a long list of schools, including some of the best programs in the country, have jumped into his recruiting.
"I've heard from everybody," Gamble said.
Gamble said he has no timetable for when he'll make a decision. It may not even matter, though. Gamble is already drawing interest for the 2025 Major League Baseball Draft. Baseball America ranks the 6-foot-1, 185-pound Gamble as the third-best player in the 2025 class. Perfect Game lists him at No. 4.
"I think he's going to be a in a very good position when it's all said and done," Simonds said.
Gamble spent some time at home over the summer and got to watch Beau finish his senior baseball season at Dowling Catholic. Beau said he and his teammates have talked about what could have been if his little brother had played for the Maroons, who went 27-12 and reached the state tournament but fell short of a title.
"He's pretty good," Beau said. "He gets it done."
There's still work to be done for Sean. But because he loves the game so much, it doesn't feel like work.
"It's something that I relate life to in some aspects," Sean said. "The failure and the ups and downs. The daily work and the daily process. The work ethic that I have to put into it, six hours a day at IMG every day and still waking up and going to school and getting A's. It's always been just a love and it's been a passion and it's something that I always wanted to succeed in."
Tommy Birch, the Register's sports enterprise and features reporter, has been working at the newspaper since 2008. He's the 2018 and 2020 Iowa Sportswriter of the Year. Reach him at [email protected] or 515-284-8468. Follow him on Twitter @TommyBirch.