Though they operate more than 200 locations in upwards of 30 states, the team behind U.S. Baseball Academy aims to make each young athlete's experience a personal one. Their four- or six-week camps are taught by local instructors who are current or former coaches at the high school or college level, and typically offer a 6:1 or better player-to-teacher ratio for intense, professional-style training. The Academy's proven itinerary of hitting, pitching, fielding, and baserunning drills was developed by an advisory board of college coaches and Major League players, including Cy Young Award–winner and ace pitcher Brandon Webb.
At 5-Tool Sports Training Center's 7,000 square-foot, air-conditioned facility, David Collings—a former scholarship player at Andrew College and the University of West Georgia—leads a team of specialized instructors whose collective experience includes minor-league play and collegiate-level coaching. Together the team shapes young baseball players with results-oriented clinics, including a pitching program designed after those used by major-league franchises and the Chinese national team. Other sessions range from summer camps that cover all aspects of the game to position-specific clinics, such as introductory and advanced catching with Mike Day––a four-time College World Series catcher who went on to play with the Montreal Expos.
To keep their skill set sharp, athletes can schedule time in one of four 55-foot hitting cages, two of which boast Iron Mike pitching machines or two dedicated pitching lanes. Private instruction gives kids individualized feedback, and a video-analysis room allows them to see the errors in their swing or the understated chicness of swapping out a cap for a beret.
On the morning of September 11, 2001, Robert Herzog dropped off his laundry, picked up his mail, and took the local C train to work instead of the express A train. When he arrived for work at the north World Trade Center tower that morning, nearly 300 of his coworkers were dead. Stunned by his inexplicable escape from death, Herzog battled through his trauma by focusing on the good things in his life. Earlier that year, he met his wife-to-be playing coed softball. He had enjoyed the league but felt he could do better. Tempered by the sense of charity and community that was so ubiquitous after September 11, he opened ZogSports—a sports league that donates 10% of its profits to charity—in 2002.
Since then, leagues have spread from New York and the northeast out to Atlanta and the Twin Cities. Casual competitors in their 20s and 30s team up in touch-football leagues and indoor-volleyball leagues, making new friends on the field, at postgame happy hours, and at preseason press conferences.
When teams sign up for ZogSports's leagues, they choose a charity to represent. From there, teams compete to win the league championship, come up with the funniest team name, or order the most drinks at the bar after the game, all of which earn them money for their charity of choice. To date, the company has donated more than $1.5 million to various charities.
Sports A Rama East Cobb’s multisport facility encompasses 30,000 square feet of batting and pitching cages, a 3,000 square foot indoor turf field, and a half-court basketball gym. Athletes can train with the facility’s coaches to fine-tune sport-specific skills in baseball, basketball, football, softball, and lacrosse, or focus on all-around speed, strength, and endurance for improved cow-tipping techniques. Two large party rooms, an inflatable moonwalk, and an arcade create a welcoming, family-friendly environment for birthday parties or youth athletic teams.
Going from managing ostriches to running a baseball business may seem like a strange jump, but it's just another day in the office for Better Baseball founder Glen Robinson III. In the 1980s, he began raising and selling ostriches and emus as food and as companions for people allergic to pet rocks. A warm spring morning brought an impromptu visit for a customer who was less interested in the massive birds, and more focused on the netting that separated the animals' pens. Soon, Glen was spending more time crafting batting cages than selling his livestock, inspiring him to open what would eventually become Better Baseball.
Today, this bird-free business furnishes players of America's favorite pastime with the gear they need to play Little League, softball, or even college-level games. After taking practice swings inside one of Glen's onsite cages, players can pick up the gloves, glove pads, and eye protection needed to help them catch any pop flies or poorly aimed Cracker Jack from the stands.
As the fall season approaches, softball players in Conyers, Georgia start to get butterflies. They grab their gloves and head to their first team practice with the Rockdale Girls Softball Association, which has taught young girls the tenants of softball and good sportsmanship since Jimmy Carter legalized fun in 1980. Their coaches can teach both fastpitch and slowpitch to a player from the time she is three to when she leaves high school at the age of eighteen. However, kids don't have to pick up the game when they're toddlers. At each age level, coaches draft teams with a mix of new and skilled athletes.
These teams train at RGSA's eight fields and six batting cages. They then test their skills every week during games or special tournaments, such as the Fallen Angels Tournament, which honors former RGSA players who have passed away.