Fresh out of high school, Polk State Baseball’s All-State designated hitter Nick Collins spent his weekdays in the field but not one with a diamond, dugout, or bleachers.
For the first year out of Springstead High School in Spring Hill, Fla., Collins worked long days in landscaping. Despite being out of organized baseball, he remains hopeful that his career was not over.
“I’m grateful for those days and the people I worked with,” Collins said. “That helped with my work ethic – being up really early in the morning and working hard all day until it’s dark out. I think that really built my character as well. I came into Polk hungry.”
Collins didn’t have a single scholarship offer as a high school athlete. His days in landscaping began before the sun came up. Often times, it was already down by the time he made it home.
“I thought about baseball all the time,” he said. “I had my headphones in from 7:30 (am) to 6 in the evening. I would be hyping myself up all day even when I was tired, because I knew I had baseball on the weekend.”
In hopes of getting a chance to play collegiately, Collins spent his weekends playing Amateur Athletic Union (AAU) travel baseball in a division for ages 18 and under. Collins was a member of three different teams. Whichever team had games that weekend is who Collins would play for.
“I knew I had the ability, I knew I had the power, I knew it was just a matter of time,” Collins recalls. “I knew that if I just kept my head down and kept working, at some point, I would get recognized. That’s what happened here.”
Collins Gets His Shot
Polk State head coach Al Corbeil had seen highlight clips of Collins and was impressed with his swing and high school power numbers. Still, the Eagles head coach didn’t give it much thought beyond that. Corbeil first watched Collins play at an AAU showcase event.
“I was just watching at some of the fields,” Corbeil said. “I saw him get a couple hits. He was really raw, but he had some raw power. I just happened to be looking for that scary bat in the lineup.”
Collins recalls one display of that power.
“I hit a grand slam right in front of (assistant) Coach (Jake) Rogers and that set us up for a visit,” Collins said. “He saw something in me and they gave me an opportunity.”
Collins, a University of Houston signee, has spent the last three years playing first base and serving as the designated hitter for the Eagles. This past season, he was recognized as an All-Suncoast Conference selection and an All-State performer for the second year in a row.
Collins hit .317 with six home runs and a team-high 50 RBIs as Polk State reached the FCSAA/NJCAA South Atlantic District Tournament for the second straight season.
When it comes to his Polk State career, however, things didn’t start as smoothly. As a true freshman in 2020, Collins quarreled academically and on the field.
“It was a kid who you could tell was affected,” Corbeil said. “I knew that if I all came together for him, it could be really good. We just didn’t know if it would ever come together.”
Collins hit just .211 that season in 11 games and struck out 13 times in 32 at-bats. He was nearly academically ineligible. To make matters worse, the season was canceled after just 26 games at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic in March.
“Over winter break when I was doing classes to be able to play in the spring, it tore me down a little bit. Once I got back here, I realized I had another opportunity to get good grades and be able to play. That’s when COVID happened and half of our season was shut down.”
After going 0-for-4 with four strikeouts during an exhibition in the fall of 2019, Collins was frustrated and running laps on the field after the game when an assistant coach took notice.
A native of Texas, Rogers is a diehard fan of Major League Baseball’s Houston Astros. As Collins jogged around the field, the Astros were playing the Washington Nationals in the 2019 World Series. With the game playing on a phone in the background, Rogers realized that there was a more pressing matter than watching his favorite team play for baseball’s ultimate prize.
“He ended up talking to me for hours about everything,” Collins recalls. “I’ll always be thankful for the amount of effort the coaches put into us – not just as ballplayers but as men trying to grow up.”
Nicky Parking “Lotz”
For Collins, the freshman struggles would prove to be temporary. Statistically, his second season would be his best. The transformation began in the batting cages while Collins was working on his swing.
In his second season, Collins would find his power and he led the team with nine home runs and 59 RBIs while hitting .325 and posting a team-high .542 slugging percentage. The improvement came as Collins altered his batting stance by holding his hands higher.
“We worked with him a lot and tinkered with his swing and with his stance,” Corbeil said. “It all started from that moment in the fall. He turned into the scary player that pitchers hated to face every day.”
As coaches saw the power he was generating, they joked that Collins would one day have a parking lot named after him because that’s where his hits would land. He was called “Nicky Parking Lots,” which was later shortened and revised to his current nickname, “Lotz.”
“I’m not just going to Houston as Nick Collins,” he said. “I’m going as ‘Nicky Lotz’ and bringing some of that Polk State with me.”
Despite being selected as an All-State performer in each of the last two seasons, Collins said the team achievements take priority. In addition to reaching the state tournament in each of the last two seasons, the Eagles won 63% of their games.
“I’m more happy with what we accomplished as a team and how we grew the last three years,” he said. “There were only five guys who were here these last three years. I’m more proud of that than any personal accomplishment. It was a great experience being here – all the hard work, the van rides, all the workouts in the morning, all the cross fits, the late nights. They all combine into one ball of joy.”
What Lies Ahead
Collins will take his talents to Houston in August where he’ll play for head coach Todd Whiting. The Cougars are in the midst of an eighth winning season in 10 years.
“To have a kid like that who didn’t have an opportunity anywhere to become the player he is has been incredible,” Corbeil said. “He worked really hard. All the credits go to Nick.”
Collins is still contemplating what he wants to do when his baseball career is over.
“I plan on having a long career in professional baseball,” he said. “After that, I’m not really sure – maybe a little acting career, or open up some baseball facilities – just to give back.
“Eventually, I want to help young players with hitting mechanics,” Collins continued. “I’d like to talk to young baseball players about the mental aspect of the game and ways to have a short-term memory on the successes and the failures.”
Collins’ ability to hit for average, power and to drive in runs will certainly be missed in the middle of the Polk State lineup. What Collings brought to the table, Corbeil said, was greater than anything seen in the box score.
“He’s going to be tough to replace,” Corbeil said. “It’s not just the 50 RBIs, but he’s a big personality and has just been a pillar for our program. He’s a great kid.”