Triple Crown Sports is now several months deep in establishing the Protect the Game umpiring initiative, where veterans of US military branches are brought into high-rigor training to become umpires for youth baseball and softball.
The shrinking pool of officials has become a profound concern throughout youth sports; behavior changes from parents and coaches are driving qualified officials away, while also discouraging new ones from signing up. From a million miles away, the problems are undeniable, and Protect the Game is hoping to bring veterans (who often need a foothold upon their return to civilian life) into the loop as a potential solution.
Early in August, a training session at the TCS home office in Fort Collins, Co., included the wise perspective of Jim Evans, who was an MLB umpire for 28 years and worked in four World Series, three All-Star Games and multiple postseason series. An author, speaker and longtime instructor with stops around the globe, Evans spoke with PTG director Jordan Cohen during a separate umpire training session in Chicago where Evans agreed to share his insights with the vets.
To begin with, Evans agrees treatment of umpires in the youth market has decomposed rapidly.
“I think it’s a cultural problem. There seems to be a lack of respect for authority; it seems to be generational,” Evans said. “The parents aren’t being very good role models for their kids. It goes much deeper than Little League baseball – that’s what I’ve seen over the course of four decades.”
A former National Guardsman and captain in the Army Reserves, Evans appreciates how a military background might positively connect to the world of calling balls and strikes. His proudest possession is the flag presented to him and his family at the funeral of his father, a WWII veteran.
“I think for recruitment of officials, that veterans are a pretty good place to start. They have respect for authority and self-discipline, they foster teamwork. I think Triple Crown is on to something here as they try to recruit them,” he said. “This also provides an avocation for them; some of the guys coming back recently from Iraq and Afghanistan have some problems when they get out, and they need some kind of connection. That’s what umpiring is; teamwork, work as a crew, no one is an independent contractor, just the same as the military.”
While the training at Protect the Game certainly hits on how and where to stand, how you stand up to the inevitable disagreements with a call is a critical piece of success. In Evans’ experience, most umpires are in it for the love of the game, the passion they feel, and it’s a commitment. They don’t want to make mistakes.
“Anytime you have a close call, you won’t make everyone happy, and you must deal with criticism whether it’s fair or unfounded,” Evans said. “Training is so important; I’ve been to Japan 25 times, Europe nine times, and the problems are universal. It’s human nature, with very competitive, people want to win, and you always have a scapegoat with the umpire. It’s an important role, and we are often unfairly criticized.”
The training and “bonus” presence of Evans worked nicely for Tim Hosey, 57, who lives in Colorado Springs and retired as a Master Sergeant in the Army after 26 years in military service. Upon his wife’s suggestion he find some part-time work, Hosey tapped into his love and knowledge of baseball, having coached in The Arena club program and managed teams from 1984-2008.
“I love baseball, and it seemed like a natural fit for me to try umpiring,” said Hosey, who has already been contracted for umpiring work in south Denver. “I was just talking with some friends in Ohio; one has been an umpire for 40 years, one has been doing it since 1980s, and they said they have the same problem, having a hard time getting umpires for Little League and into high school.
“I thought it was fantastic training, and Jim Evans did a fine job, but all the guys were old ones like me. You should go for a younger market.”
Of course, umpiring in the youth ranks has been a job filled from the scrawniest 15-year-old doing summer rec programs to 60-somethings who know the rule book inside and out. Hosey mentioned the Army’s Soldier For Life Transition Assistance Program (a veteran outreach also found in other service branches), with a “number of individuals looking for employment, either part time or something while they go back to school,” he said. “That’s a ready crowd looking for opportunities throughout the United States.”
Evans would remind incoming vets that umpiring will be a test, but one that people with a military background will not find surprising.
“A mental toughness is involved; it’s one of the first things I look for. Once the game starts, there’s pressure you put on yourself … there’s more importance on Game 7 in the playoffs than in spring training, but it’s still three-strikes-you’re-out, nine innings, same job description,” he said. “You learn to control the hype and pressure you feel. The umpire’s worst enemy is surprise – that’s where training comes in, those survival skills.
“Is umpiring an art or science? It’s really both – getting proper angles, using your eyes properly, tracking pitchers and plays, reading cues, anticipating where plays could be headed and getting in position. Angle and distance – there’s a perfect place to be in for every play, and if the play breaks down, you make the proper adjustment … that’s all scientific. The art part is handling the situation after you make the call. They may not be happy with your decision; there are people skills required then. Sometimes you ignore what you hear, sometimes you acknowledge it, sometimes you issue a warning and sometimes you have to eject. That’s how you control your game.”
The next Protect the Game training sessions will be held Sept. 7-8 in Raleigh, NC; click HERE for more details
Triple Crown’s Northwest Baseball Series presents the fifth annual Border Wars tournament, set for May 4-5 at premier partner facilities in Hillsboro, Clackamas and Portland.
The event is a great way to get the competitive juices pumping for the summer season to come, as teams from Washington represent the North, while teams from Oregon join forces to make up the South roster. After two games against “rival” teams are played Saturday, squads have to win an in-state matchup in order to play in a championship game, which again pits the “rival” territories against each other.
This marks a big year for the event; the South has two straight victories, tying the series at 2-all. Several clubs are bringing multiple teams to the event, including The Bat Company (West Linn, OR), Sunwest (Medford OR), WW Sweets (Clyde Hill, WA) and Premier Baseball Club (Battle Ground, WA).
Depending how game times fall, there may be some free time at the event, and Portland is an ideal location to fill the gaps. It should be easy to track down the Cinco de Mayo Fiesta, along with assorted craft shows, a farmer’s market and rock festival, for those looking for a very full day.
You can follow the action on Tourney Machine – SCHEDULE, RESULTS
by Lary Bump
RICHARDSON, TX -- The Houston Generals found themselves in an unaccustomed situation Friday.
It wasn’t so much for playing in 40-degree weather in North Texas as being surprised at being behind late in a game.
As pool play began Friday in the 13 D1 Elite division at the Triple Crown Texas Season Opener, the Generals trailed Spitfire Truth of Grandview, Texas, by three runs going into the bottom of the fifth inning. Coming off the mound in the top of the fifth, Easton Dean had a plan for when he led off the bottom of the inning.
“Just go opposite field, hit something and get a base hit,” he said.
That didn’t go entirely to plan. Instead of hitting to the opposite field, the left-handed batter lined a double -- to right field. Two singles pulled the Generals within a run. With two outs, Luke Rives singled to tie the game, and when he stole second base on a fake-bunt play, he continued to the plate on two errors.
“I watched them in the field,” Rives said. “They didn’t look like a very good fielding team. I didn’t know the (throw) went over his head. My thought process was that when he waved me home that the ball got by the center fielder.”
Which it did. After that, coach Travis Dean had words of advice for his son when he went to the mound for the sixth.
Easton Dean recounted the words as “Just keep throwing strikes over the plate.” He pitched out of a one-on, one-out jam to nail down a 5-4 win, the second of two victories for the Generals on the day at Breckinridge Park.
Before that, Spitfire had had its way with the Houston team. Trey Craig provided Spitfire’s scoring with two two-run home runs, and the Generals had only one hit, a bunt single, entering the fifth.
“They were a little bit intimidated,” Travis Dean said. “That hitting puts a chill on the kids and they go, ‘Oh, oh, we’re outmatched.’
I just had to remind them and give them the confidence, and they came out and did their job when they were supposed to.”
Luke Rives was asked if the team has had to rally often.
“Um,” he said, thinking, and finally added, “Not many.”
Earlier, the Generals had built an early lead and held off the Exit Velocity Yankees of Hornlake, Miss., 8-6.
“We gave away six unearned runs,” Travis Dean said.
In the 12-team invitational event, three other teams – Crawdads by Yeti of Austin, Texas; Louisiana Knights of Stonewall, La., and Hustle Premier of Texas City, Texas -- won two pool-play games each.
“The unique flavor of this tournament is that most weekend tournaments are single-elimination. This one adds a double-elimination format,” tournament director Jason McCoy said. “Also, for this tournament, we identified the best teams in 42 different events across the country. These teams have been invited to play here.
“They’re playing against the other best teams, so there are no games they can take off.”
For the tournament’s double-elimination portion beginning Saturday, the Knights are seeded first, with Yeti second, Hustle Premier third and the Generals fourth.
The seeding didn’t seem to bother the Generals, who have come from behind once already this weekend.
Eric Fruechtemeyer and Jason Anderegg played baseball at Belmont University and already had experience in coaching the college game when the idea hit in 2002 to start a youth program. Just as Nashville has found favor with a growing population base and economy, baseball has also taken off in the region – Vanderbilt is the preseason NCAA No. 1 team, and the Knights cast a shadow in their world as well.
Anchored by the Next Level Instructional Baseball facility, the Knights now feature 26 teams from ages 11-18, along with a home-school squad at the high-school level. And to kick off 2019 on the right foot, the Knights added five softball teams to the fold, giving them seven overall.
Fruechtemeyer and Anderegg swung through the offices at Triple Crown in late January and answered a few questions.
Q: What’s behind the move into softball?
Eric: I have a daughter, and that’s how we got in the game. I was driving all over for the team she was on, and I said, why? We have a facility, and we can run this the way we run the baseball side. We started with one team, added another, and just the other day five more from a current organization now under our umbrella. We’re excited to grow it; we’re learning, and the people we’ve brought in will help us get accustomed.
Q: What were your motivations to start a youth program in 2002?
Jason: We were both coaching in college then, so (the academy) was a way to coach during the summer. As we grew and got more into the facility and giving lessons, there was some looking back at the things we didn’t have when we were younger, and what we could offer kids now. Things are growing, and people in Nashville are becoming baseball-orientated. I enjoy the lesson part because it was something that I didn’t have a whole lot of; I grew up in a farm town where you just went out and played and hoped. Teaching kids at a younger age and getting them on the right track is rewarding, to see it click in their heads.
Eric: We learned fast that if we were going to get in the team game, we needed a place for our players to come and train. We had a few teams and a vision to grow; we wanted them to train and be around each other. It’ll be even better now with softball, so we will have people in there all the time.
Q: What do players and families have to understand about playing for the Knights?
Jason: The biggest thing with younger kids, and this is very hard with the parents, is trying to teach everyone that it’s about getting better. Getting reps, playing games, getting into environments that push the kids … not about winning trophies every weekend, like most people want to do. At 13s and 14s, it’s about preparing for high school, and in high school it becomes about the recruiting process. Getting them in front of the right coaches, to the right tournaments so they can go to the next level, if they choose.
Eric: It’s not for everybody. Parents have to educate themselves and learn if the program is right for the kid and family. When we sit down with a player and a family … look, the Knights are different. They’re going to work hard, you’ll be put in the right tournaments, right environment and right coaches. You’ll have every opportunity to succeed if you put in the work.
Q: The Knights have always seemed to ensure small colleges get to see your players; you don’t just try to attach yourselves to D-I options.
Jason: It’s huge in our organization, as we have multiple teams at each age. We understand that once you get to age 16, 17, that’s about 45 kids, and not all of them are going to play D-I. When we go to tournaments or showcases, we make sure D-I, D-II, D-III, JUCO, NAIA, they are all represented. We have guys who play at those different levels, and Eric makes sure to meet with players and tell them what’s (realistic).
Eric: It’s education in that regard, too. In Tennessee, we have a lot of Division I schools and junior colleges, and three D-III schools that play baseball, two of which take it seriously. Not every kid is going to play D-I baseball. We have to educate, because they don’t know what D-III baseball looks like, and there are D-III options in the East, further South, in the Midwest … you should know what’s out there.
Q: What’s next for the Knights?
Eric: A goal for us, is we’d love to have fields for our kids to have access. We don’t have to be stuck inside all the time in Nashville. That will only help the players, to give them more resources.
Jason: I’d like to just continue the brand. In our business, teams come and go, but we’ve been pretty steady for 17 years. As we begin softball, to make sure we keep trending up with a good brand everybody knows. We’d like to get to the point where the kids we started with, their kids are starting to come through the program. That would be pretty exciting.
We had 37 teams compete this past weekend in the 16th annual MLK MLK Desert Classic, helping kickoff our TCS baseball SoCal schedule.
9u – SoCal STIXX scored 32 runs in two games Sunday to win the bracket.
10u – SD Pirates Silver was the No. 3 seed after pool play, but their two wins Sunday (9-8 and 11-2) gave them the title.
11u – Desert Prospects allow just four runs Sunday, roll to title.
12u, 13u – Laguna Lightning undefeated all weekend in both age groups to prevail.
14u (60-90) – ABD Premier use 10-0 and 6-2 victories Sunday to earn the championship.
FORT COLLINS, Colo. – In one of the all-time upsets in sports history, beloved YouTube baseball mainstay Domingo Ayala has yet to be signed to a major league deal – their loss is your gain, as Triple Crown Sports has announced plans for eight stops on the 2019 TC Baseball Domingo Ayala Tour.
This will be the fourth year TC baseball and Domingo have joined forces. He has performed in a variety of settings, from indoor sports facilities, sports complexes, youth baseball fundraisers, corporate events and even in MLB locker rooms. Ayala’s unconventional journey to excellence provides a great deal of comedic material that sports fans have embraced over the years.
His batting and pitching stats are awe-inspiring, as are the following numbers:
YouTube: Over 175 videos, 33 million+ views and 160,000 subscribers
Facebook: More than 265,000 followers
Instagram: 218,000 followers
Twitter: 82,500 followers
Here’s the schedule for the 2019 Domingo Ayala TCS Tour:
March 16 – Arizona Spring Championships, Phoenix
May 26 – Bend, OR Elks Memorial Day Tournament
June 13-14 – Omaha SlumpBuster, Session 1
June 20-21 – Omaha SlumpBuster, Session 3
July 5 – Big South Regional Championship, Nashville TN
July 16 – U.S. Club Nationals, Atlanta
July 22 – TCS World Series, Park City, UT
July 30 – TCS World Series, Steamboat Springs, CO
“Triple Crown Baseball has always pushed the margins when it comes to what a tournament experience can look like, and we are very pleased to partner with Domingo Ayala for yet another season,” said Sean Hardy, VP of Sports at TCS. “His skills as a player are only topped by his abilities as an entertainer, and his command of an audience creates that extra level of fun for all ages.”
Look for details on upcoming appearances at www.domingobeisbol.com
About Domingo Ayala
At the age of 2, Domingo Ayala started playing baseball. It wasn't long after that when he became one of the best players in his hometown of Puerto Plata, Dominican Republic. In his pursuit to make it to the MLB, Ayala packed his bags and moved to the United States.
Now, the self-proclaimed best baseball player in the world still claims to be 17 years old. Though many believe him to be slightly older, no one has seen a birth certificate to disprove his claim. As he travels the world teaching baseball, his ultimate goal is still to make it to the big leagues.
About Triple Crown Sports
Based in Fort Collins, CO., Triple Crown Sports has been producing college and youth events for more than 35 years, with more than 90 events scheduled for 2019 in the arenas of youth baseball, fastpitch, basketball, lacrosse and volleyball. The TCS footprint includes both the preseason and postseason WNIT basketball events and the men’s and women’s Cancun Challenge tournaments in November. Triple Crown is also powering “WNIT” concept events in D-I softball (NISC) and volleyball (NIVC), with those two events debuting in 2017. TCS youth fastpitch tournaments (including the 900-team Sparkler/Fireworks event) draw the nation’s finest club programs, and hundreds of college coaches attend TCS events for recruiting purposes.
Jeremy Jones was born in the middle of the country in Champaign, Ill., about equidistant from the heartland cities of Chicago and Indianapolis.
As it turned out, however, Jones found his biggest inspirations in the wide-open spaces of the Arizona desert.
In a land without margins, where your imagination could run free without bumping into much of anything, Jones played college baseball in Mesa, AZ., at the JUCO level and then at the D-I space, competing for Arizona State when the Sun Devils took second place in the 1998 College World Series. He was drafted three times by Major League Baseball and eventually played five seasons of minor league ball, primarily as a catcher.
The Midwest eventually lured Jones back, but not without some of the ideas about the game that he embraced from his days before professional baseball. He started up his own baseball academy, Building Champions, and has expanded the club to nearly 50 teams in less than 15 years, basing his efforts in the sprawling Kansas City suburb of Overland Park, KS., home to more than 190,000 people and where he grew up.
“I was enlightened by the style of baseball what I saw playing in Arizona; taking second in the country in Omaha was a big inspiration, and I learned even more in those years with the Rangers,” said Jones, who started player instruction in 2004 and founded his first older-age showcase team in 2007. “In the back of my head, I realized even if I didn’t play in the majors, I could come back to Kansas City and teach them what I didn’t know at the time. There were no academies when I was in high school or middle school, in the late 80s and early 90s. I wanted to bring that information back to Kansas City and start an academy from ground zero.”
Those early years may not have been as detail-drenched as life in today’s Building Champions world for Jones, but all those individual hitting lessons and thoughtful networking began to put him in touch with others who could naturally help him build the brand. There really was no blueprint for growing the BC brand, but the fundamentals were certainly watched closely.
“Everything grew slowly; every year I’d find another quality instructor who came to me through God’s grace and plan,” Jones said. “I think we started the youth program around 2012, and that was probably the younger brother of someone in the high school program wanting to become a Building Champions team, and we realized if we educated players at an earlier age it would be easier for us to take them on in the high school/showcase level.
“It was just one year after another, asking what can we do? Should we add another team? Should I hire this instructor? It wasn’t an A-HA! moment, just hard work six or seven days a week to offer a service, and people gravitated to us. It was basically a one-man show for a long time, and then people wanted to be a part of what my vision was for baseball in Kansas City. I’ve always had the philosophy that if you surround yourself with great people, the rest takes care of itself with hard work. It was based around that and having the ethics and belief system where you take care of the kid first, where it’s a loving environment where we care about kids on and off the field. Grades, their peer groups off the field … look to get the right player, not necessarily the best player.”
The average parent looking in the area for a solid, trustworthy baseball academy gets plenty of comfort when looking at the Building Champions’ resume. Jones has worked with the children of two Kansas City Royals front-office figures in J.J. Piccollo and Lonnie Goldberg, both of whom have a major role in the MLB team’s scouting apparatus. Jones has soaked in his fair share of insight from talking to them, adopting procedures that echo the family-friendly path of the Royals.
There’s also the impact of having several players picked in the MLB draft, including Jason Adam (fifth round in 2010), Bubba Starling (No. 5 overall in 2011) and Trevor Rosenthal (21st round of 2009, had back-to-back 40-save season for the St. Louis Cardinals in 2014-15).
“Our original teams were very talented. With kids who are that talented going through your system, your Rolodex grows every year. Everyone wants a piece of a Building Champions player,” Jones said. “As far as the academy goes, those opportunities kids have today are because of what came before. We focus on development on and off the field; we try to find the best competition, and we look for the best exposure in the country.”
“I came in when we had maybe 10 teams, one in each age level. We decided to see about a (larger tryout), as we had more kids looking for teams … and we ended up having 650 kids show up. It was kind of a shock, and now about 750 kids roll through tryouts every July,” said BC fielding coach, hitting instructor and 15u head coach Gerry Cole. “It’s hard to say no. You get in this business to help kids play baseball and give them an outlet, so it’s hard to say no. You keep trying to find a way to give them a chance, and to develop, under the umbrella that we believe in – our style. Maybe those kids can flourish. But it doesn’t hurt when kids like Trevor Rosenthal, Bubba Starling and Jason Adam have come through our academy. When you have success, it can heighten excitement.”
Of course, the academy’s success also creates expectations. These are useful at times, as everyone should be driven to refine and improve, but when parents and athletes start to get ahead of themselves in the chase for a college scholarship, it’s a red flag for Building Champions.
It’s a basic disconnect when a family is more interested in the finish line that they are about the process that makes the race winnable in the first place.
“Sometimes honesty is hard (about the best college destination) because they don’t want to hear that right now … 'you’re not a D-I player.’ You may be a successful college player, but it’s going to have to be at the right level,” Cole said. “You have to guide parents and players through it – for some it’s a shock, but parents start to realize that (Building Champions) really does care for my son, and care about them succeeding. Most of the kids end up where they need to be and will enjoy their college experience.”
“There are obstacles, especially with the early-signing trends going on. The major league players that came through … in those days, it was development first and then we’d showcase in between their junior and senior season. Now, the showcasing seems to come early,” Jones said. “It’s a little tougher to wrangle people in and get them to keep focusing on getting better, and letting the results take care of themselves. I’m a process-orientated person, and there are more distractions today. You get kids thinking about the draft as (high school) juniors, and that’s a long way from the draft. It’s tough to keep them focused, and the only reason anyone will have any success is because they truly love the game.
“Parents know we educate kids on and off the field; baseball is not the only thing we stress. We have speakers come in and talk about being great citizens on and off the field, being student-athletes … keeping baseball is a Plan B situation, because it will work out if it works out. Exposure takes care of itself.”
So as the Building Champions roster of teams tackles the summer schedule, the plan is to as always keep the long view in mind. Cole said he’s continually amazed at how well young athletes can perform, and how quickly they can evolve, when the pressure is minimized. To be anxious is to invite traffic that muddies the mind and interferes with instincts developed and mechanics learned at the academy.
Jones is always happy to see a BC team be the last squad standing when the brackets are finished, but he will be busy keeping track of other, more critical details.
“We understand there’s the potential of us losing games because we are protecting arms, and we play teams sometimes that don’t care about that too much. I talk all the time about taking care of arms,” Jones added. “You need balance with number of players you need to get through a long tournament. Parents have to understand that 12th or 13th player is needed.
“How much baseball are we playing in a short amount of time, with a small roster? That’s where you see the damage. Kids may have quick arm, but lack strength in the lower half, and that becomes very tough on the growth plate. The game is growing, from what I can tell. You just have to be careful with the kids – they don’t understand what fatigue is, and parents want to win. The big thing in baseball is development, and that should trump winning. You have to have rules in place, because parents, coaches and players … their competitive spirit overrides common sense.”
The 2019 schedule for Pathway Baseball, the 15u-18u arm of Triple Crown baseball, has been announced, with five national-scale events ready to deliver unique value in the world of recruiting and showcasing.
Backed by a long list of trusted facility partners and a growing reputation for matching the right player with the right college program, Pathway Baseball launches the 2019 campaign in Albuquerque from May 31-June 5.
Next up is the Pathway Games Omaha (June 24-28), followed by Pathway USBC in Richmond (July 17-28) and the Northern Colorado Fall Classic (Aug. 23-25). A late-fall event in 2019 will be added in Tempe, AZ.
“We had a promising year of growth for Pathway Baseball last season, with the new events in Albuquerque and Phoenix, and the expansion of the Northern Colorado Fall Classic,” said Pathway director Gino Grasso. “Among other things, our fall has been spent reviewing and revamping the Richmond event for 2019. We have built a lot of deep relationships in 2018 with some quality people and organizations, and we remain focused and excited about what we fully expect to be a great year in 2019.”
Pathway Baseball directors are dedicated to building and executing premium, intimate events that will allow true exposure for the players while always working to make sure college coaches are in one location throughout the event, at top level facilities.
For more information: https://www.pathwaybaseball.com/
Event directors from Triple Crown Sports have finished digging through the data from the 2018 youth baseball calendar and are pleased to announce their 11u and 12u National Rankings.
The top spot at 11u is held by MVP Hustle – Prieto from California, and the 12u rankings are paced by Spitfire Elite – Pizarro from Texas.
Triple Crown’s youth baseball rankings required ongoing research throughout the season, totaling six months’ worth of tournaments. Results were pulled coast-to-coast from more than 30 events in each age division, and each event was weighted based on the number of Top 10 teams that competed.
“Triple Crown has a long history of producing nationally respected rankings in fastpitch softball and volleyball, and we’ve always prioritized traveling to top events,” said TCS baseball event director Jason McCoy. “The competition you face in a given tournament, and the number of quality teams on your schedule, are important factors in identifying a team’s body of work.
“The state of Texas is well represented on both the 11u and 12u rankings list; this is consistent with other national rankings published by youth baseball organizations and is a testament to youth baseball programs in Texas that eagerly look to test themselves against the best.”
Here’s the 11u Top 20:
1. MVP Hustle - Prieto, CA
2. Midwest Elite Bombers, TX
3. Alamo Drillers, TX
4. Chino Hills Thunder, CA
5. East Cobb Astros, GA
6. LA Xtreme Elite, CA
7. SGSA Sharks, GA
8. Dallas Tigers - Bazzell, TX
9. Lone Tree Halos, CO
10. Academy Select - Hebel, TX
11. Texas Canes, TX
12. Academy Select - Ingram, TX
13. Five Star Elite, FL
14. Easton Elite, CA
15. Dulins Dodgers - Maes, TX
16. Academy Select - Blass, TX
17. San Diego Show Black, CA
18. Stickmen, LA
19. Scottsdale Dirtbags Black, AZ
20. Utah Grays, UT
And here’s the 12u Top 20:
1. Spitfire Elite - Pizarro, TX
2. Hustle Premier, TX
3. Crawdads by Yeti Baseball Club, TX
4. MVP Hustle - Garcia, CA
5. Team Derty - Dirty South Bats, TX
6. Extra Innings Stickmen - Pizarro, LA
7. ABC Scrappers, TX
8. Banditos Black, TX
9. Yankees Exit Velocity, MS
10. Dallas Texans - Nalley, TX
11. SA Kings - Martinez, TX
12. Team Clutch, FL
13. MVP Elite, FL
14. Louisiana Empire Black, LA
15. Rebel Baseball Red, CA
16. Dulins Dodgers - Fesmire, TN
17. Team Xtreme Adiktiv, FL
18. Five Star Tigers DeMarini, FL
19. EM Majors, AR
20. Oklahoma Mudcats, OK
When Matt Crudale had his final run-through with professional baseball scouts in 2003, one of the questions in his head got a definitive answer – his playing days had come to a close.
A separate question remained – what happens next?
After enjoying the lifestyle and comparatively chill schedule of bartending in northern California, Crudale found himself serving up something else people wanted. Friends, neighbors and others in that circle began to ask Crudale to give their kids some baseball training, and soon enough he found his daylight hours busy enough to reconsider his restaurant gig.
Crudale obviously knew the right mix of tone and temperament when it came to baseball, as he now runs a 17-team organization, the Danville Baseball Academy, known widely as the DBA Crushers. Located about 22 miles east of the Bay Bridge, the DBA Crushers have evolved from a backyard-and-birthday-party production to a dynamic travel-ball program that prides itself on proper development and passionate competition.
“I was at a loss, trying to figure out my life. I was bartending and making pretty good money,” said Crudale, whose program includes multiple camps, clinics, workouts and a tight roster of players, as tryouts are handled by appointment only these days. “I was finding more work with neighbor kids, then private lessons, working at camps … after we started that initial (10u) team, it all came together and I realized this was what I wanted to do.
“When we first started, travel ball was picking up in popularity, and there were a lot of startups. A lot of those have come and gone. We did have to find a niche and separate ourselves from other clubs and Little League. We loved every minute of playing and wanted to share what we learned. Our goal is to teach the game and make it fun – a huge part is the life lessons, dealing with failure and respecting the entirety of the game. One of my biggest goals was to change lives outside of baseball; we want to get them to make smart choices on and off the field, and hopefully what we’ve taught, they can teach as well.”
Success in baseball requires discipline and attention to detail, but the DBA Crushers are willing to let kids have fun as they put in their time in practice as well as games. The organization has the same end-goal as everyone else in the academy space, but there’s just not a frantic desire to get there too quickly. From 9u through 12u, playing time is very balanced as the athletes rotate through multiple positions and simply build confidence and experience. At 13u and 14u, players will still get a healthy portion of available at-bats, but there’s more honing in on the best defensive fits for each kid.
With a solid indoor facility at their disposal – The Dome – the DBA Crushers have that much greater an ability to train and provide consistent touches on the ball, gloves and bats.
“Our big thing is, and we say it up front, is we don’t care about winning. We do win; at initial tryouts and evaluations, people are shocked, and others love that,” Crudale said. “We focus on the fundamentals and game play. Work in practice on mechanics and your swing, your throwing, defensive technique, and come game time, you put it to work. It all starts with playing time, learning and understanding the game, and it’s not all about winning.
“We also want kids to have to make decisions … we’ve seen a lot of coaches who are so hands-on, the kids just wait for directions. But when you get older, you can’t wait – you have to be instinctual. We implement and encourage kids to make mistakes. Learn the limits of your baserunning, your approach at the plate … you need to learn what you can or can’t do.”
With that tone and philosophy in place, the DBA Crushers back it up with a dedicated coaching staff. For several years, Tony Arnerich has been contributing his insight on the disciplines of hitting and catching – he’s a catching coordinator and assistant hitting coordinator for the Seattle Mariners’ minor league system. Arnerich and Crudale played against each other a few times; their extended families ended up having kids in the same swim class, and one thing led to another once people started talking baseball.
The common ground includes the belief in competing against the game, at first – digging in and learning how to play – and then digging in against your opposition as you get older.
“Matt can be loud and be very to the point, but he cares about the kids, and I could see that from Day 1. He genuinely cares,” Arnerich said. “I have a good buddy in Santa Rosa, who made a good point about year-round baseball. I wasn’t a fan, but he said you have to look at it differently. Most kids are going to play year-round, whether you coach or not. You might as well help them do it the right way. Take care of their arms, and care how they are treated. You owe it to the kids to do it correctly so they can have a good experience with baseball.
“Matt had same vision, not have a kid throw 200 pitches in a weekend. That’s how I was, and I’ve seen too many people who are out there to just make a buck. It was an easy fit for me. We always preach that we play to win, but you must recognize it when a team improves, especially in the lower levels … being in the right places, throwing to the right places, tagging up on the right play, pitchers covering first … the moments in the game where you won the play. You can say, ‘Hey, we ran it perfectly, we did it right, and that other team just got us today.’ People get it wrong with a loss, and they think, oh you must stink, you did nothing right, the coaches are wrong. No – we did things right, and that’s a win going forward.”
Connor Bruce, a Sports Illustrated “Faces in the Crowd” honoree and a sophomore catcher who just transferred from NC State to Ohio State, met Crudale a long time ago, at Bruce’s baseball-themed birthday party that Crudale worked. He recalls the DBA Crushers creating a positive environment for his skills to take firmer root, as well as helping get his name out three in the world of college recruiting.
“When we had practice, it was all about, ‘We’re not screwing around, let’s get our work in and get better.’ He had good plans,” Bruce said. “Going into games, you always wanted to win, but with the younger teams, he didn’t care about wins and losses, which I really loved. We won 20 of the maybe 60 games when I was 10, and he came out saying how proud he was, and that you could see how much better everyone was and had improved over the year. That’s why we stuck with him, the improvement each year. When we were 12 and went to Cooperstown, we were 18th of 104 teams that were legit – it was all about the development. In the older ages, he expects development to come along with winning.”
With five years of history running 15u-18u baseball, Crudale and the organization have learned plenty. Some of that has to do with simply how teams are operated – policy handbooks for all age levels help calm moods and give excitable parents an early understanding of what to expect. On top of that, instructors like Arnerich are anchoring athletes with the proper fundamentals, an approach to the game that will hold up over time.
“With mechanics, certain ones are high-risk, and you have to look for that. I want to look out for any glaring mechanical issues, although you have to remember we are all different in how we might throw,” Arnerich said. “Parents might think high school is the most important time, but I think in pro ball, that’s where the job (aspect) really starts. You have to get there, but you have to be able to maintain a career or position. The numbers suggest it’s hard to do, so you need to have priorities in line, have a good experience, and be healthy when it’s done.”
“The vast majority of parents think their kid is going D-I, Pac-12 or SEC. It’s a shock to have to consider D-II or NAIA,” Crudale added. “We have to tell them up front the reality of things, and that will help their transition into being more realistic. Not everybody is going to Stanford or Oklahoma. People get eye-washed; there are so many showcases going on, and people think they have to do every one. If you pick and choose the right two showcases, you’ll be better off than going to six or seven around the nation.”
Crudale, who has three daughters, was asked if he thought an entry in to fastpitch made sense – he said that might have to get confronted around the house in the future, but it wasn’t a big topic at the moment.
“That’s been discussed … we need more bandwidth,” he said, laughing.