BRONZEVILLE — Starting on Friday after school, young baseball players can start training like the pros at a new training facility on South State Street.
Best Instruction Guaranteed Baseball Academy will officially open its three batting cages, training sessions and camps at its new location at 3619 S. State St. on Friday afternoon.
“This is a place to come hit,” said B.I.G. Baseball cofounder Keronn Walker on Tuesday as baseballs hurtled from the new pitching machines. “You can go play catch in the gym, but when you think about it, there’s nowhere to come hit a hardball.”
Walker and his partner, Micah Christensen, plan to draw on their own professional baseball connections to bring in scouts from colleges to help young players find scholarships and a pathway to the majors.
“It’s a lot easier if you go to college,” said Walker, who played at Bluefield College in Virginia before being drafted by the Kansas City Royals in 1999.
He said that he tells the kids that college ball is a stepping-stone to the minor leagues and then the majors, but also provides something worthwhile to fall back on if their career ends short of the big leagues.
“We tell them the odds — you have a better chance of being struck by lightning twice,” Walker said. “But there is going to be that one that makes it.”
Whether they’re going to make it or not, Walker trains his players for the big leagues.
B.I.G. Baseball Academy pushes kids to train with wood bats, which are much more finicky than the metal bats many use on their Little League teams, because it is the only option for major league players. Walker said the kids in his camps run the same drills he learned from the Royals.
Above all, Walker said he tries to instill a love for an often slow and complicated game. He said retaining that admiration for the game was what helped him deal with the disappointment when his minor league career ended.
“I got released and I didn’t know what to do with my life,” Walker said. “This is the key to everything, I just enjoyed what I was doing and that’s what we tell the kids.”
Walker and Christensen both joked their players practice for hours to mostly just stand around on a field or wait to bat.
Christensen said the ball is typically only in play for about eight minutes of a game and much of the action is in the infield, meaning outfielders spend most of the game waiting for a fly ball or sitting in the dugout.
“Baseball is a thinking man’s game,” Walker said. “It’s the only sport where the defense starts with the ball, and that changes everything.”
Walker said he tries to impress on his players that a good ball player understands patience. He said he tries to tell ball players that the long vigilance for a brief spurt of action is part of contributing to something bigger than the individual player.
“There are nine players on a team, there are people depending on you,” he said.
Though their new facility opens Friday, Walker and Christensen are already dreaming about opening an indoor field so the game doesn’t stop for winter.
“The No. 1 reason I think kids aren’t playing is the weather,” Walker said.
While they plan their next move, Walker and Christensen will offer training sessions and camps and get kids time in the batting cages.