BPC's new-age approach to training a big hit with area baseball players of all agesBy DAVE O’SULLIVAN
Back in the 1980s, high school baseball was basically a four-month sport. You went to tryouts the first week of March, played your high school season, then played about 15 games in June for the summer league team. That was it. Once the middle of July hit, a player was basically on his own until the following March.
But this isn’t 1988 anymore. It’s 2017, and high school baseball has become a year-round passion for many players, and their demand for more and more instruction has created the need for personal hitting and pitching instructors. Even still, baseball is evolving, and two former Cape-Atlantic League stars are at the forefront of perhaps the newest, most modern approach to baseball training.
Mike Adams, formerly of Holy Spirit, and Ed Charlton, a St. Augustine Prep graduate, have been friends for many years. They both played college baseball and both played professionally. Charlton was drafted by the Cincinnati Reds and played two years of minor league baseball before finishing his professional playing days with the Rockland (N.Y.) Boulders of the Can-Am League. Adams was a standout pitcher at Holy Spirit and Wagner College, and also played for Rockland. But as it became clear professional baseball wasn’t in their futures, the pair decided it was time to implement an idea they came up with during their playing days.
Last fall, the Baseball Performance Center in Pleasantville became a reality. Adams was able to use part of his father’s business to house the performance center, which is located in the warehouse behind Ken Adams Oil on Devins Lane. The business only had a handful of clients to start out with, most of whom were buddies of Charlton’s younger brother, Nolan, a recent Holy Spirit graduate. But about nine months later, the BPC has become the go-to source for South Jersey high school baseball talent and it boasts more than 40 players now.
“One of my goals was always to be in the game of baseball as long as possible. During the offseasons while I was playing, I learned a lot about how to train and what to do, the new ways of baseball. The game is changing a lot and you always have to be able to adapt,” Adams said. “I learned a lot by playing. I always wanted to be a coach, but I found a love for the development side of the game and being able to create relationships with the guys and help them.”
“Mike and I have been friends for a while and we were playing together last year in Rockland, and we started talking about it then. It takes a lot. The first thing you need is a building, and luckily Mike was able to get one. I was coaching in college, but I didn’t have a ton going on in terms of being locked in to what I wanted to do long term. I just knew I wanted to be involved with baseball,” Charlton said. “It all started with my brother and a couple of his friends, and now we have a ton of guys. The first day — it looks much different now than it did then. We started small, but it’s blown up big because there’s nothing else like it around.”
The idea is unique in that Adams and Charlton don’t charge for individual pitching or hitting lessons, like most private instructors do. Instead, they treat BPC like a gym — but for baseball players. High school and college players (and soon youth players) are able to pay a monthly fee and show up whenever they want. Adams and Charlton are always on hand to work with either pitchers or hitters, and they use a lot of video as a teaching tool. In addition, they put video clips up on Twitter, and that helps generate interest as now players’ friends all see what they are doing at BPC.
Adams said he doesn’t see BPC as simply an expanded batting cage, but rather a complete workout facility for today’s baseball player. Players do all kinds of drills with bands, weighted baseballs, tees — whatever training technique you can think of is most likely being used here.
“We always had this goal of having a big facility. We had to just work with what we had in the beginning, but the success of the guys helped a lot, along with word of mouth. Eventually, we had enough guys interested to where we could expand, and, obviously, Ken Adams Oil — they are a working business and they let us work out of their (warehouse), so we’re thankful for that. They are letting us run with it, so it’s been fun. We’re trying to fix everything up and we’re constantly trying to upgrade,” Adams said. “We’re still trying to find the best formula for it to work (long term), with the monthly membership, how the payments work. It’s always baseball, but (the business side) is tough sometimes, especially because you are dealing with money and kids, and the parents will drop them off so then we’re responsible for them. It’s going well so far, though.
“I would say we’re going to try to expand this entire building. We’re trying to get a weight room put in, a full-length bullpen in so we can do live pitchers-to-hitters during the offseason. There’s obviously a lot more room to expand this. It’s basically going to be a baseball and lifting center, that’s our goal.”
The business model allows players the opportunity to get as much work in as they can handle, and is great for parents, too, as they can simply drop their son off and come back a few hours later for pick-up. The results are showing, as BPC now trains at least 10 players who currently are playing in college, and 20 more who have committed to playing college baseball.
“It’s been great. With the format we have, a player can come here five days a week. When a guy comes in for the first time, we just let them hit and do what they do naturally. Some guys need more work than others, some guys need less. The first day, we don’t even work with them. We just watch, take video. But it’s easy to see when guys are doing things wrong, especially with the video because you can see things that maybe you wouldn’t just by watching a kid swing. Sometimes we’re even surprised by the video. Like, a kid’s swing might look worse than it actually is because they might do something weird at the start of their swing, but the actual swing itself might not be bad at all,” Charlton explained. “It’s awesome to see guys who want to come in. I never had a place like this to train, I just had a cage in my backyard. But to have a facility where you can come and learn with your friends, compete a little — the most rewarding thing is when you get a text from a kid saying he went yard (in a travel league game). That’s the best thing, when guys do well. We’re starting to see guys who started with us six or seven months ago who didn’t have any interest from colleges, and now we’re having guys commit, so that’s nice to see.”
Adams said some area high school coaches have reached out as well, wanting to learn more about the techniques he and Charlton are using to not only get players better, but keep them healthy an injury free, as well.
“Our mindset is no matter how good you are, you can always get better. Once you think you are good enough, that’s when you’re not good enough. The guys come in here four or five days a week. There are a lot of guys who have never done band work before, or foam rollers. So, they’ve come a long way,” Adams said. “A lot of the coaches have reached out wanting to learn, so they are going to come in and learn some of the things we do. All that stuff is basically about health and being able to last longer in the game, with the bands and the strengthening techniques. Coaches have shown an interest in wanting to learn what we know about that stuff and they want to implement that as well into their programs.”
Adams said the “come over anytime” approach has really begun to appeal to a lot of high school players, as the BPC’s numbers have more than quadrupled in less than a year.
“Most people do lessons, and sometimes that’s only one hour a week. We feel that you can’t really grow as a player with just one hour a week, so that’s why we decided to do it this way. This way, they have that same, consistent voice every time they come in here, we’re preaching the same thing to everyone, and they can get more work in. Some guys are here for four hours a day. If you come, you’re definitely getting your money’s worth, and we feel like this is the best way for them to progress. We’re not just flipping them balls (in the batting cage), we’re telling them what to do, showing them video analysis — it’s much more fun, and they create relationships with each other by being here every day,” he said. “That’s our selling point — we’re going to video everything and show you why. Once you see it, you’re going to understand it better rather than somebody just telling you. We’re going to tell you, but we’re also going to get in there and show you because these are the things that helped us get as far as we got. You’re not just listening to some voice from a guy who was good a long time ago, we still (play competitive baseball). I think the guys can respect that.”
Today’s players understand that there are more opportunities than ever before to play at the next level, but by the same token, if a player doesn’t put in the work, somebody else will.
“I think a lot of the guys are seeing their friends and guys they play against go to big-time colleges and get drafted, and they start thinking ‘I’m not too far from those guys, if I put in the work and the hours, maybe that could be me.’ I think there’s definitely a hotbed of baseball in South Jersey that (college coaches and scouts) are starting to find, and I think that’s why we’ve been so successful — these guys want to work out a lot, and we offer them the chance to come here every day if they want, and they love it,” Adams said. “I remember when I was in high school and wanted to go hit, I’d have to go and pay money for the batting cage every time. I would have loved to just pay one time and come whenever I want.”
The Baseball Performance Center is still a work in progress, but Adams and Charlton are making facility improvements every day, and, much like they did during their baseball playing days, they are trying to get better every day as business owner/operators.
“There’s always something we’re looking to improve at the facility,” Adams said. “We want the guys to work hard to get better, and we’re trying to do the same thing. We’re always trying to fix something up, make it look nicer and make it more accessible to the players.”
Contact Dave O’Sullivan: firstname.lastname@example.org; on Twitter @GDsullysays