Tag Archives: HitTrax

Taylor’s Gould shares hitting approach

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Kyle Gould has enjoyed plenty of diamond success at Taylor University in Upland, Ind.

In 15 seasons as NAIA-affiliated Trojans head baseball coach, Gould has seen his teams go 515-291. The makes him the all-time wins leader in program history. His 2018 team won a school-record 44 games. There have been seven Crossroads League championships on Gould’s watch and several of his players have earned all-conference honors.

Gould spoke about his approach with hitters during the first PRP Baseball Bridge The Gap Clinic at Noblesville as a guest of Greg Vogt.

A three-sport athlete in high school, Gould never had a private hitting or pitching lesson in his life. When he structures practices many of his influences come from the coaches he had in sports other than baseball.

“I’ve never approached the game from an overly-mechanical way,” says Gould. “It’s always been through how we develop these skills externally — things I learned playing football and basketball.

“I have this desire to learn, challenge what I’ve learned and challenge what I’ve been taught and maybe look for a better way to do things.”

Gould, a 2002 Taylor graduate, says what his players do in practice has to be shaped by what they want to do in games.

Outlining game-time expectations, Gould wants Taylor hitter to:

• Get a good pitch to hit.

• Get on time with the fastball.

• Handle the breaking ball.

• Hit the ball hard.

• Be tough with two strikes.

• Be situational.

What does Taylor train this in practice?:

• They are challenged to control the strike zone.

“We’re always praised for taking balls and we always want to have that conversation,” says Gould. “We want that communication (between coaches and players and players and players).

“We want to give them feedback.”

• The speed and angle of the pitches they see is varied.

“Rarely do I throw the ball from 25 feet at 35 mph belt-high, they hit it and we tell them how great they are,” says Gould. In our program — with everything we do — everything and everyone is good and bad not good or bad.

“Because if this, we’ll use a ton of BP variations. I could probably give you 50.”

• Hitters track and/or hit spin everyday.

Taylor pitching coach Justin Barber had his arms tossing breaking pitches while hitters are taking a look.

“We spin a lot of breaking balls off the mound,” says Gould. “I want our hitters in the box, tracking spin and identifying very early ball or strikeout, getting feedback from the catcher. We hit off machines, but we’re identifying breaking balls everyday.

“When I played, we never talked about hitting the breaking ball. If hitting the baseball is the hardest thing to do in sports then hitting the breaking ball is the hardest thing of the hardest thing. We need to be able practice.

“The more you do it, the more it takes the fear out of it. The ball eventually has to pass through the strike zone and it’s learning how to track that.”

• Hitters develop and track exit velocity.

“We get great feedback from HitTrax,” says Gould. “The players love it. It makes them competitive with others. Hopefully, it makes them more competitive with themselves.

• Hitters develop A and B swings and use them daily.

“A B swing is what I used to call two-strike approach,” says Gould. “When I say two-strike approach to our hitters, they took that very passively. They took that to mean don’t strike out. So we changed it to B swing. It gets the point across.

“With B swing there are three things: Choke up on the bat, do not get a hand load and the front toe stays on the ground.”

In 2019, 46 percent of Taylor’s at-bats had two strikes in them.

“If that’s going to happen 46 percent of the time and we’re not practicing that, right?,” says Gould. “Forty to 60 percent of our swings in practice will be B swing approach.

“The most important swings we take are either plus in the count or way behind in the count. I want to make sure that guy’s faced a slider with a B swing.”

• Hitters work on relevant situational hitting.

Gould says the 230-pound 4-hole hitter pounding ground balls to shortstop to him. Neither is the 135-pound 15-year-old trying to drive a runner in with a fly ball.

One drill that the Trojans do in the cage with HitTrax going is for the hitter to face a tough pitch and Gould will ask them to do something with it that they’re good at. Some might be asked to hit-and-run, others to elevate the pitch.

“We just hammer the two or three things we need them to do to be successful and to help us score runs,” says Gould.

What about the training environment?

“It’s what matters the most,” says Gould. “The best thing you can do is surround players with other players who want to develop and compete.

“It’s a common phrase: We’re the average of the five people we spend the most time with. For players, most pitchers are the average of the people they play catch with everyday. Most hitters are the average of the guys they go hit with.”

Gould says he believes strongly in progressions not rotations.

“We want to think about going smaller to bigger, slower to faster,” says Gould. “We want to really have a plan on how we progress.”

Ninety percent or more swings are done with an external focus.

“If we’re going to do mechanical work, it’s going to be outside of our drill work. It’s going to be one-on-one. Very rarely, do I pull a guy out.

“I may say go hit five line drives to right-center field and let’s see what happens.”

One thing that Gould is careful about is the less mechanical cues he gives to the players, the more they give to each other.

“They don’t know what they’re doing much less what someone else is doing,” says Gould. “That’s a big thing for us.”

Players at Taylor hit in intentionally selected groups of three.

“I don’t like groups of two. I think it’s too quick,” says Gould. “I don’t like groups of four. You can lose them pretty quick.”

Groups may consist of power hitters, speed guys, older players with younger players or the batting order in thirds.

“It is incredibly intentional,” says Gould. “We’ll tell them if they can not hit with them and not give great effort and attention, I’m going to move you (into another group).”

Gould prefers 1-5 swings per round.

“It is a personal pet peeve of mine,” says Gould. “Guys come in and take 10-12 swings and rotate.

“That is not how the swing is. You don’t have that much time to adjust.”

Something is recorded everyday.

“Development is measured against self,” says Gould. “We only want you comparing your numbers to your numbers.

“Guys are very different. If they start comparing themselves to each other, we’re going to have problems.”

Practices include something competitive everyday.

“If we’re doing those groups right, they’re competing against guys it makes sense to compete with,” says Gould.

In their daily schedule, hitters do up to six things in this order:

MediBalls.

“We’re trying to active the muscles we use to hit,” says Gould. “We’re trying to train good movements.”

• Tee work.

“The only thing that we use it for is contact points,” says Gould. “HitTrax gives us some very good data on where we should be contacting the ball.

“We want them to understand where they hit the ball the hardest. We can sit a tee there and get them comfortable hitting it there.”

• Front toss.

The feeder tosses it flat from 17 feet and is done for things like internal rotation. Plyo balls are often used. This drill is done on most days.

Overhand Batting Practice

Forty to 50 percent of swings come during this part of practice.

• Machine work.

It’s done everyday, including breaking balls.

• Competition.

What Taylor manipulates in practice:

• Bats

Overload, regular and underload are used in different position.

• Balls.

Baseball, plyo balls, tennis balls, wiffle balls, basketballs and more are used.

• Distrance.

A three-plate drill that Gould favors has his hitters changing between various distances from the machine, which can be set to delivery various pitches and velocities.

• Pitches.

Breaking balls and fastballs can be delivered from live arms or machines.

• Person.

Technology used by Taylor:

Hack Attack machines.

• HitTrax.

• Radar gun with display board.

• Overload/Underload bats.

Driveline PlyoCare balls.

• Blast Motion.

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Kyle Gould, a 2002 Taylor University graduate, is entering his 16th season as head baseball coach at his alma mater in 2020. He is also the school’s athletic director. (Steve Krah Photo)

 

RoundTripper Sports Academy celebrating 25 years with HitTrax tournament benefiting foundations

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

RoundTripper Sports Academy in Westfield, Ind., has more than 1,400 current active members training in baseball and softball.

There many more alums that have come through the organization founded by Chris Estep over the past 25 years. Among those are more than three dozen professional baseball players and more than three dozen collegiate softball players.

“Chris is excited to see all the current and former faces come through,” says Laura Lingner, RoundTripper sports information director. “He wants people to love the game as much as he does.

“Come out and celebrate with him.”

All teams — not just current and former RoundTripper members — are invited to participate in RoundTripper’s Quarter Century HitTrax Tournament at 16708 SouthPark Drive in Westfield.

The event is scheduled for Dec. 26-30 with the first two days being qualifying for the competitive bracket. Teams will play in seven-inning games to determine champions. The facility will be open 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. during the celebration and tournament.

The event will benefit three foundations: RoundTripper Foundation, Indiana Mustangs and Colts Baseball Club.

In lieu of an entry fee, participants are asked to donate to one (all all) of the foundations or bring in gently-used baseball or softball equipment to be donated to underprivileged athletes throughout central Indiana.

Even those not swinging in the HitTrax tournament are invited to donate items to the cause and just hang out.

RoundTripper is involved in reviving Christian Park in the Pleasant Run area of Indianapolis. It’s one of the places Estep played baseball as a child.

Another way, RoundTripper has been giving back during the holiday season while celebrating its 25 years are giveaways of equipment provided by corporate sponsors. To see what the staff looks like as Santa’s helpers, go to @RoundTripperAca on Twitter or the RoundTripper Sports Academy Facebook page.

Untitled-1RoundTripper Sports Academy is has been developing diamond athlete for quarter century. Headquarters for the organization started by Chris Estep is at 16708 SouthPark Drive in Westfield, Ind.

 

Alum Scott concerned with development for Mississinewa Indians

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Putting an emphasis on baseball development, training spaces at Mississinewa High School and in the Grant County city of Gas City, Ind., have expanded in recent years.

Two years ago, Mississinewa Community Schools built an auxiliary gym at the high school that has been helpful to the Indians in baseball and other sports.

“It’s been incredibly beneficial for us,” says Mike Scott, who enters his fourth season as head baseball coach at his alma mater in 2019. “Before, you could not put the batting cage up until after basketball season.

“This affords us so many more opportunities. I’m thankful to administration for investing for our student-athletes. How did we ever do this before? We’ve been able to gain so much development just with that space.”

In addition, the old Owens Hardware Store has been converted by Caleb Crandall into a training spot now known at “The Academy.” The facility is expected to open in January and includes three batting cages, turf and a HitTrax baseball data tracker.

“It can be a game changer in our development, especially for our youth,” says Scott.

The Indians are fed by in-house travel teams from 8U through high school.

“Coaches follow our drills, philosophies and teachings at a younger age,” says Scott. “You don’t have to spend as much time teaching them things they should have already learned.”

There is also baseball played through Ole Miss Youth Sports. This spring will mark the third season of junior high baseball for Mississinewa.

To help local players get better, Scott runs a hitting league in February and March. A multi-week pitcher/catcher camp is also on the way.

Scott says he appreciates the windows of practice opportunity in the fall and winter where he can work with his players for two hours two days a week. In the fall, this gave the Indians a chance to have a throwing program to build arm strength. It allows pitchers to go through an arm care program. From there, they spent weeks in the weight room.

“Now you can develop that progression and development,” says Scott of the winter practice period which began at the beginning of December. “Teaching can continue. We’re not crushed for time (like in the weeks leading up to the season opener).”

Scott played for Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Famer Rick Atkinson and graduated in 1988. He earned his degree at Indiana University in 1992 and worked in case management with juveniles in a counselor setting before going into teaching.

He was a Mississinewa assistant to Brian Cruz for a decade then served as an assistant at Anderson University and pitching coach at Indiana Wesleyan University before coming back to Ole Miss 12 years ago. He teaches a dual-credit criminal justice class at the high school and is athletic director/school service coordinator at R.J. Baskett Middle School. There are about 550 students in grades 6-8.

Scott credits Atkinson for teaching him the nuances of the diamond.

“Rick’s knowledge of baseball is so immense,” says Scott. “To have any opportunity to sit down with him is an honor

“It was an awesome experience for me to play for him.”

As Indians head coach, Scott generally has between 26 and 28 players populating varsity and junior varsity rosters. He likes to keep 12 to 14 per squad.

The addition of courtesy runners for pitchers and catchers plus the designated hitter provide additional playing opportunities.

“I don’t want too many kids sitting on the bench not getting playing time,” says Scott. “Our season is so short anyway.”

Players get a chance to see where they fit into the puzzle and they don’t always fit where they expected.

“Role playing is difficult for a lot of kids to accept,” says Scott. “When they’re coming up through youth systems, they are often one of the better kids on their team.”

Players find out that the speed of the game increases as they move up in level.

“Freshmen are competing against three other grades and that presents an interesting dynamic,” says Scott. “It also pushes (older) kids. Upperclassmen need to continue working and developing. No position is going to be guaranteed.”

Scott’s 2019 coaching staff features Evan Hammond and pitching coach Kyle Zabst with the varsity and Bryan Elliott with the JV.

The Indians play on-campus on a diamond where Scott spends much of his time.

“I’m a freak when it comes to the baseball field,” says Scott. “I cannot get off it.”

Scott, his assistants and players have re-graded the field, repaired the infield, loud and home plate areas and added a warning track all the way around the field. Home and visitor bullpen mounds have been fixed.

In the future, Scott hopes to get the community and alumni involved in order to make further improvements.

Mississinewa (enrollment of about 810) is part of the Central Indiana Athletic Conference (with Alexandria-Monroe, Blackford, Eastbrook, Elwood, Frankton, Madison-Grant and Oak Hill).

The Indians, coming off an 10-14 record in 2018, are of an IHSAA Class 3A sectional grouping with Bellmont, Jay County, Heritage, Marion and Norwell. Mississinewa has won three sectionals — the last in 2006.

In 2017, the Indians went 16-7 with a large senior class and shared in the conference title for the first time in more than 25 years.

Recent Ole Miss graduates that moved on to college baseball include catcher Noah Harris (Goshen College), middle infielder/outfielder Nolan Young (Olney Central College in Illinois and committed to Illinois State University of 2019-20) and third baseman/outfielder Cade McCoin (Indiana Tech).

Mike and Kelly Scott have two sons — Payton and Ryan.

Kelly Scott is an Ole Miss graduate. Payton Scott played baseball at Owens Tech in Toledo, Ohio. Now a physical therapist and athletic trainer, he is engaged to be married in June 2019. Ryan Scott is a Mississinewa freshman. His sports are tennis and golf.

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An aerial view of the baseball field at Mississinewa High School in Gas City, Ind.

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Another glance from above at the home of Mississinewa High School Indians baseball field.

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Mississinewa High School in Gas City, Ind., has a new batter’s eye and flagpoles at its baseball field.

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Here is what it looked like at the Mississinewa High School baseball field during a work day as upgrades were being made.

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Another view of Mississinewa High School baseball field during a work day.

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The infield has been conditioned on the baseball field at Mississinewa High School in Gas City, Ind.

step0001The Ole Miss Indians celebrate a baseball victory.

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Mike Scott, a 1988 Mississinewa High School graduate, is the head baseball coach at his alma mater. (Mississinewa Community Schools Photo)

 

Scientific training from Marks helps give state finalist hitters an edge

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Better offense through science.

Following the scientific methods prescribed by Mike Marks at the Hitters Edge training facility in Sturgis, Mich., has helped players going after high school state titles in Indiana.

Penn (Class 4A) and South Bend St. Joseph (3A) both go after IHSAA state crowns Saturday, June 17 at Victory Field in Indianapolis.

The Kingsmen (27-6) take on Indianapolis Cathedral (28-0) for the 4A title around 5 p.m. after the Indians (24-4) meet Jasper (30-4) for the 3A championship at approximately 2 p.m.

Among Marks’ weekly pupils are Penn seniors Nolan Metcalf (Kansas University commit), Niko Kavadas (Notre Dame) and Trevor Waite (Dayton) and junior Payton Kerr and St. Joe seniors Tony Carmola and Tyler Kleva (Trine).

“I use analytics and metrics to help them reach their potential,” says Marks. “I’m not the traditional baseball trainer.

“All you have to do is give good athletes information. All I do is use science to prove it to them and then they understand it.”

Marks gets hitters to be able to analyze their own swings.

“I want to know what they did wrong, so they can make an adjustment,” says Marks. “It’s more of a college/pro tech approach. We want a kid to be low maintenance at the next level.”

Marks, who started coaching his own Kalamazoo, Mich., area travel team in 2002-03 and worked at Around The Horn baseball school in Kalamazoo 2004-07 before starting his own place in Sturgis in 2008, talks about the kinetic chain of energy, building the swing from he bottom up.

Metcalf, the Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association district player of the year for 2017, has been going to Marks since age 12 with Kavadas, Waite, Carmola and Kleva plus Mishawaka Marian senior Riley Tirotta (Dayton), South Bend Clay senior Trenton Stoner (Indiana Purdue-Fort Wayne) also being longtime students. Kerr and South Bend Adams senior Spencer Nelson are newer clients.

Using video analysis and HitTrax technology, Marks talks with these players are many others (he has a long wait list because of demand) about things like launch angle and exit velocity.

Unlike the traditional approach, Marks encourages his hitters to drive the baseball in the air.

“We do not hit down on the ball like I was taught 20 years ago,” says Marks, who played at Kellogg Community College in Battle Creek, Mich. “Line drives over the infielders’ heads leads to extra-base hits. I’d rather see a deep ball to center field than a grounder to shortstop.”

It’s an exciting moment when hitters can inform Marks they had 0 percent ground balls on 100 swings.

The Hitters Edge facility Wall of Fame is filled with many current and former Major League Baseball hitters at the point of contact.

Marks encourages his hitters to find a match and then goes about breaking them down.

“There is a small reconstruction period with kids,” says Marks. “I break the kids down to nothing to teach them core movements that they need to know.

“I want to teach them technique first. Then they can put their own style to the swing.”

Hitters are encouraged to have quick hands and not get jammed at the plate.

Marks wants his hitters to build muscle memory and to become unpredictable at the plate by being able to use all fields and not just pull or hit to the opposite field.

“Then they don’t know how to pitch to you,” says Marks.

IHSAA State Finals players have been tough outs in 2017. Witness some of the Penn numbers.

Penn left-swinging lead-off man Waite is hitting .491 with six home runs, five triples, eight doubles and 40 runs batted in.

Righty Metcalf (.410, 4 HR, 7 2B, 36 RBI), lefty Kavadas (.370, 4 HR, 3 3B, 9 2B, 26 RBI) and righty Kerr (.377, 1 HR, 5 2B, 23 RBI) have also been potent.

Then there’s righty-swinging St. Joe boys Carmola (.446, 3 HR, 4 3B, 12 2B, 28 RBI) and Kleva (.360, 1 HR, 9 2B, 31 RBI).

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Hitters Edge instructor Mike Marks meets up with three pupils (from left): Penn High School and Indiana Nitro travel baseball players Trevor Waite, Nolan Metcalf and Niko Kavadas. The three Kingsmen have helped their team into the 2017 IHSAA Class 4A state championship game.

 

Technology meets training at Teddy Ballgames

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Taking technology and using it to train and entertain.

That’s what owner Mike Branch is doing with his baseball and softball training facility in South Bend called Teddy Ballgames.

Opened in 2016, the place features six indoor batting cages.

One cage is set up with the HitTrax Baseball Simulator, a state-of-the art video capture system capable of tracking the path of a batted ball and displaying it on a big screen monitor.

“This generation is visual,” says Branch. “They don’t realize how cool this is. For somebody our age, we didn’t have this when we were growing up. We didn’t have video. We didn’t have the information that made us better hitters. You either hit or didn’t.”

Branch said the system takes instruction and training from the old “keep your eye on the ball” and allows the player to see what the mechanics of a swing look like.

With patent pending HitTrax technology feedback data telling them the location and speed of the pitch and their average exit velocity plus distance and location of hits (spray chart), they learn things like taking the outside pitch the other way and what pitch they can strike with the biggest probability of getting a hit.

“Eventually, they become their best hitting coach,” says Branch. “My son is 13 and I still work with him quite a but I’ll have him go through some of his swings and assess himself.”

HitTrax users start out with a baseline assessment and can be tracked for progress over a period of time.

Branch notes that not all players and coaches will embrace the technology, preferring to stick with age-old methods.

“Men have egos,” says Branch. “The fact is you can’t see everything at full speed.”

But the lifelong baseball fan (the Bridgman (Mich.) High School graduate roots for the Detroit Tigers) says this is where the game is going.

“This is how the pros train (with video),” says Branch. “They use video of the pitcher and they use video of their own swing to determine what they’re doing so they can make those small adjustments.”

Because of the considerable investment in the system (there are not that many available to the public in Indiana), Branch charges more for the HitTrax cage, but has tried to keep it just a little higher than bowling alley fees.

HitTrax offers a data plan subscription where registered users can flag their videos and have access to them on a mobile device. Branch charges $12 a month for this service. Otherwise, players can see their videos at the facility.

Branch and Teddy Ballgames instructor Greg Harris (head coach at South Bend Riley High School) are both certified through the Mike Epstein rotational hitting program (TB throwing instructors include John Coddington and Jeff Jackowiak).

In teaching with HitTrax, Branch has learned a few things about working with young hitters.

“You can use cues positively now so they can start to make those improvements,” says Branch. “And you want them to become engaged. If I’m showing a kid this video and he’s staring at the ground, he’s really not picking it up.

Every kid is different in how they take coaching. You want to try to make it a positive thing.”

Branch emphasizes that this tool is being used to make them better and to identify where improvement is needed.

“‘I’m not trying to make you feel bad. I’m trying to make you understand what you’re doing wrong,’’’ says Branch is repeating his message to his players.

Staying positive is important. The idea is to uplift and not discourage.

“You can’t be all negative, especially with younger hitters,” says Branch.

Similar to golf simulators that allow players to tee it up at Augusta or Pebble Beach, HitTrax entertainment features include the ability to hit in any Major League Baseball park and even the site of the Little League World Series in Williamsport, Pa. Sessions can be set up for birthday parties, where attendees can go for the fences in a “Home Run Derby.”

Remote games can be played. Teddy Ballgames recently got 12U and 14U players to take on C-Side Sports in Washington, Pa., another facility with HitTrax.

Leaderboards are kept in-house and on the regional level to let players see how their scores — mostly tied to exit velocity — stack up with others. A Quality Hit Club competition is underway that pays $250 to the winner.

Branch started going to the batting cages for therapy after an accident about 15 years ago and began wondering where his solid strikes would have landed. He then did extensive study into video analysis technology, including discussions with Wayne State University about developing such a system.

“I knew it was going to take cameras, but then it got out of my wheelhouse,” says Branch.

Cost and the time it would take to process feedback caused him to back off. Then came word from his brother that the technology had been advanced by HitTrax.

“When I found out about it, I got very excited about it,” says Branch. “They took it a little farther on the training side.

“I was thinking more of the entertainment side. I wanted to be able to do remote tournaments and leaderboards and those things.”

Branch says the technology expedited his decision to transition from the rental business to the baseball training business.

The name of his facility pays homage to Hall of Famer Ted Williams aka “Teddy Ballgame.” The cages are surrounded with photos and books on Williams and others from baseball’s storied past.

“When we were kids, we listened to baseball on the radio,” says Branch. “Today, a lot of kids don’t follow the game. There are a lot more distractions for kids. I wanted to educate the younger generation on players like Williams, Joe DiMaggio, Lou Gehrig.”

Of course it’s his business, but Branch sees the real worth in having a place to train — not just during the winter months — but spring, summer and fall, too.

“This may be a little controversial, but I believe the people in the south work at it harder than we do in the north,” says Branch. “We continually give the excuses that it’s nice year-round down there.

“Why are there more indoor facilities in the south than there are here? We go to our team practices and our games, but we don’t go back to our individual work. That’s just my opinion.”

Branch notes that one family visiting from the south came to him during Christmas break, saying their son could not go two weeks without batting practice because all the kids where he came from were still practicing.

“It has to be a cultural change,” says Branch. “We have to  get out of our paradigm of what we think is enough. I look at this and I’m excited about, but not everybody has that reaction to it.”