While MLB’s sign stealing scandal is dominating baseball headlines, one Bronx facility is teaching kids how to play the game properly.
New York Sluggers Academy, located at 728 E. 136th Street, trains a couple of hundred youngsters each week, ranging from youths to professionals.
The facility opened in 2012 and is operated by Brett Brown and former MLB player Eladio Rodriguez.
Since it’s inception, Brown said he has been blown away by the impact it has had on the community.
“There was a need for a baseball training facility unlike anything else that’s currently in the Bronx,” Brown said. “Our goal is to get these players to play at a high level.”
Brown told the Bronx Times he used to train kids in a school gym with batting cages, but knew he wanted do more.
“I wanted to replicate something like that,” he explained. “We felt like there was a better way to teach baseball. We felt that in the travel baseball community within Manhattan, the Bronx and Queens there wasn’t a place that somebody could go to really and train, that was what the impetus was to open.”
The facility has five batting cages with weight bearing posts that are 12 feet apart and a pitching tunnel.
Coached by former professional players, the kids train 1-on-1 or as a team and learn how to swing, field, catch and hit.
“It’s definitely more focused and specialized,” Brown said. “If you come here you’re serious about playing.”
Many MLB players work out there, including St. Louis Cardinals centerfielder Harrison Bader, who attended the Horace Mann School.
Brown stressed how important it is to have proper mechanics and not just rely on talent.
“Everybody who comes here is blown away by the place and what we do here,” he commented.
Another key element of the academy is the coaches are local. Many of them work at Bronx high schools, including Cardinal Spellman and Monroe.
In nearly a decade of running the academy, he has observed kids grow on and off the field. More importantly, seeing them return when they are older makes him proud.
“It’s great when a player comes back or when I see a player that went to college or high school,” Brown remarked.
The training camp recently had the New York regional director for USA Baseball there watching the kids.
“We’re building relationships,” he said. I feel like the area here in the Bronx and Manhattan is overlooked.”
One youngster the academy has impacted is Josh Zola, 14. Zola, who lives in the Manhattan, has been attending the facility for three years and plays for the Slugger 14U team.
He attended a few places beforehand, but according to his uncle Tony Porcello, none have benefitted him as much as this one.
“They’re (the coaches) the best with kids,” Porcello said. “They’re strict, but keep it fun.
“At this age it’s about learning. They know what to do, how to teach and what to teach. We played with a couple of other organizations, but this place has the depth and the facilities, which is key.”