COLUMBIA — Delgado Community College baseball coach Joe Scheuermann remembers when he went to Michael Liberto's house to recruit the 5-foot-9 shortstop.
"He told me he wanted to get to Omaha," Scheuermann said. "So I asked him if any of schools that were recruiting him were going to get to Omaha and he said 'no sir.'"
Liberto got recruited by only one Division I school, Louisiana-Lafayette. So he decided to join Scheuermann and his Dolphins in New Orleans.
"He was the key to my recruiting class," Scheuermann said. "If he was 6-1, he never would have came to Delgado."
Liberto's goal of playing in the College World Series in Omaha is why Liberto transferred from Delgado to MU this year. When the Tigers play their first game of the season against Nevada at 8 p.m. Friday in Phoenix, Liberto will start at shortstop.
"I coached major-leaguer Andy Sheets and he has as good hands as Andy had," Scheuermann said. "Once everyone sees him play, they forget how tall he is."
MU coach Tim Jamieson played and coached against Scheuemann when Jamieson was at the University of New Orleans and Scheuemann was at Tulane, and they got to know each other.
"He told me 'Hey, I got a guy who can play'," Jamieson said. "Fortunately, he was open to leaving the city of New Orleans."
Liberto's journey to MU began with an email he got from recruiting coordinator Tony Vitello while Liberto was on the road last season. Liberto then came to watch Missouri play against Texas.
"Once I hung out with these guys, I knew it was going to be a good fit," Liberto said. "The players talked about how fun the coaches are and how laid back everything is."
Liberto started playing shortstop at age 10 and developed a reputation for getting to every ball hit up the middle of the infield. But Liberto never grew to a size that teams at the highest level look for.
"Out of high school, I was just a little kid who couldn't hit," Liberto said. "I was small and people looked at me and thought I couldn't play because of my height."
At Delgado, Liberto developed a swing, and last year he was named a Junior College All-American. His freshman year, Liberto led the Dolphins to the Junior College World Series.
"The big thing is he's been a winner everywhere he's gone," Scheuermann said.
Liberto's biggest job for the Tigers this year is playing great defense. Until this season at Delgado, the Dolphins coaching staff forgot what it was like to be nervous on ground balls hit to the shortstop.
"He has great range," Jamieson said. "He can make the routine plays along with some great plays. He gives us a much more solid infield defense than we had last year."
Jamieson likes the attitude that Liberto brings to practice every day. Usually, Liberto is one of the first players on the practice field. That doesn't mean his transition from junior college to Division I will be easy.
"His energy level every day is fantastic," Jamieson said. "I still think he's still adapting to this level of baseball."
Liberto is still focused on the same goal that he told Scheuemann about in his living room on that recruiting visit.
"I just want to go to Omaha," Liberto said.