By Cara Cooper
The High Point-Thomasville HiToms had nine players on their roster this summer who came through the team’s youth development program.
Coach Matt Duffy is hopeful that a program getting started in Martinsville will eventually lead to similar results for the Martinsville Mustangs roster.
The first workouts for the Mustangs youth development program will take place on Tuesday and Thursday this week at Hooker Field beginning at 6:30 p.m. The players in the organization will wear the same gear as the Coastal Plain League team in what Duffy called a minor league-type of organization.
“The end goal of this is to have them play here during the summers when they get to this age level if they’re able to,” Duffy said earlier this week. “But what we want to focus on is give them this goal but pushing them hard enough where if they don’t reach this goal they’re still reaching goals… still being successful and playing college baseball.”
The program is for players in Martinsville, Henry County, and other surrounding areas. With a cost of $300, organizers are hopeful it can be a more affordable option than other travel baseball organizations.
“I want to see the youth in our area and surrounding areas have the opportunity to play baseball past the age of 14 without the high cost and financial impact of what travel baseball programs across the country are creating,” Joe Haynes, who is running operations for the program, said via text. “We have talent here… It will be our mission to let this league expose this talent and recognize these kids.”
The program will be run by volunteer coaches from the area, all of which have played at either the college or minor league level. Duffy, who will serve as an instructor in the league, played at UVA-Wise and coached the Martinsville Mustangs in 2012 and 2013. Terry Carter, a former minor leaguer for the Cleveland Indians, will coach the older age group, and recent Bluefield College graduate Mason Gary will coach the younger players. Former Patrick Henry Community College standout and current PHCC and Mustangs coach Brandon Nania will also serve as an instructor.
Nania was asked by Duffy and Mustangs President Greg Suire to help coach.
“I said I would love to because this community has given me a lot, made me feel like I’m at home when I came down from Pittsburgh,” Nania said. “I was a player here, now I’m a coach here. I want to give them everything I know and help them be ready for college baseball.”
The team will play games on weekends and maybe one or two during the week, 18-20 games in all, with additional weeknight practices as well. The biggest push for Duffy will come during practices and workouts, where they’ll teach fundamentals over everything. When he was running youth camps as the Mustangs head coach, Duffy said he found that fundamentals weren’t being taught to players in the area at a young age. Practices will be more hands-on and in-depth.
“What we’re focusing on is we want kids to have fun and play the game but we also want kids and parents to understand this is a developmental system,” Duffy said. “We all have the same view that we need to start pumping more fundamentals into kids. The right fundamentals and advanced learning as they progress.”
Nania said the biggest issue he’s seen out of freshmen playing college baseball for the first time is a lack of promptness and knowing what needs to be done to get their bodies right to play. That’s one thing he hopes the program can get into players’ minds at a young age so when they go to college for the first time they’re ready to compete for a spot right away.
“You might be battling for somebody’s spot and they’ll say, ‘This man is on time, he’s doing everything right,’ and that’s in him from a young age,” Nania said. “So I feel if we can get that into their brains of, ‘Hey, this is how it needs to be done,’ they can be successful.”
The program will play games beginning at the end of August and through October, with coaches willing to continue working at indoor facilities through the winter to get players ready for the school season in the spring.
Duffy hopes that eventually the program can get to the point where it is holding showcases for players and sending videos and assisting with college recruiting.
While Duffy acknowledged it will take several years, Duffy said he’s seen similar systems work at other college summer league town, and is confident it can work here as well.
“It’s not going to happen overnight here, we just want people to buy into this,” he said. “I wouldn’t be involved if I didn’t believe this would work, and I know Brandon would be the same way. This is a good thing for our area. This is the type of thing that I think will help the kids in our area, and that’s the main goal is to help them.”
“I just want to give them the love of the game, honestly,” Nania said. “Show them that this is how you have to play the game if you want to play at the next level. Being here with the Mustangs is awesome because they’re going to say they’ve seen me in the dugout, they’ve seen me out there coaching with the older guys and they know this is what it takes to get to that level and get to where those guys are right now.”
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