Although the Giants' run in the NFL playoffs has everyone in town thinking football, there is less than a month before pitchers and catchers begin reporting for spring training.
As baseball and the spring months approach, local players were given a treat at the in Bridgewater Tuesday.
Yankees hitting coach Kevin Long visited the academy for a one-night clinic that attracted 84 of the area’s local baseball players. Players ranging from little league to high school packed the facility to get one-on-one instruction from one of the game’s best hitting coaches.
Zoned owner Duke Baxter organized the event when he heard that one of his coaches was close friends with Long. When the opportunity arose, Baxter said, he knew it was something that he could not pass up.
“We’re trying to bring the best people in for two reasons,” he said. “First, we want our great staff to keep learning and stay ahead of the curve. Second, we want to keep the best players coming to our academy."
"When we bring in big names such as Kevin Long, we know people will want to train here," he added.
Baxter and his staff held two clinics to ensure that every player registered had enough time with the famed hitting coach. The players were then broken into groups and rotatedg through stations until everyone got time in the cage with Long.
Such organization was important to make sure the clinic ran as planned. Baxter said he wanted to make sure all of players were treated the same, and that one player didn’t get more attention from Long than another.
Long said he noticed the organization and dedication shown by Baxter and the Zoned staff. Along with his passion for coaching young players, Long said that was one of the factors that made him easily commit to the clinic.
“When I met Duke, I immediately saw his enthusiasm and dedication,” Long said. “His willingness to help the kids is great and how can you turn something down like that?”
“The facility here is fantastic,” he added. “It is very well run, there is a lot of space to work with and the staff is outstanding. It is a great place to work out, and Duke is doing a great job here.”
After everyone had a chance picking Long’s brain, the night was capped with autograph-signing. Players got everything from helmets to batting gloves signed by the legendary coach, all trying to obtain a piece of priceless memorabilia.
The capper was a fond reminder that the clinic was all for the kids, many of whom idolize and admire what Long does during the Major League Baseball season.
“We wanted to bring in one of the best hitting coaches in the country and show our players and staff what it is like to be coached by someone who is around the best of the best,” Baxter said. “He coaches Derek Jeter, Alex Rodriguez, Robinson Cano and other great players. For him to come out here to show the kids what he teaches those guys and preach the fundamentals was exactly what we wanted to do and I knew that this was the perfect opportunity.”
Long said he always tries to find opportunities like this.
“I feel obligated to help today’s youth, and anytime I have the opportunity I like to take it,” he said. “If I can give them a piece of information or make their swings more consistent, I feel like I’ve done my job. I love kids and I really enjoy coaching them. It is as rewarding as it gets.”
After one lucky player got his autograph, he headed for the exit, where Baxter was standing to say goodbye.
“This is the best day of my life,” the boy said.
Baxter just smiled, and said he was proud that in one night, he was able to bring smiles to many faces, all while providing top flight training that the Zoned Sports Academy aims for.
“That is what it’s all about,” he said. “It doesn’t get any better than that. This was a once-and-a-lifetime opportunity, and I am glad that I could provide that for these kids.”
For more information on clinics and what Zoned can offer, visit the Zoned Sports Academy’s official website.