THIS WEEK’S TOP STORIES
Sports: Indoor training center lets boys of summer practice all year
By Roger Greene
Baseball season is a bit farther down the road. But those driving along Commerce Drive the last few weeks may have been able to pick up the familiar thwacking sounds of bats and baseballs colliding.
Opened in the last month by Justin Nash and Kevin Romero, Spartan Baseball provides players on the Waccamaw Neck, as well as in greater Georgetown and Horry counties, the opportunity to continue developing their skills. Nash says Spartan Baseball offers much more than a run-of-the mill batting cage facility. Among the options players will receive are access to tailored workout programs, weighted ball and bat options, specialized sessions with rotating instructors and a weight room for strength training.
All of the programs are data and technology driven, embracing the analytical trends that drive the game of baseball at the highest levels.
“We had sort of a soft opening,” Nash said. “We had people coming by to check it out and get in a couple of workouts. Now, we’re up and running and ready to go.
“We want players coming here to get the most out of their potential. The programs we offer are highly structured and backed by the latest data and technology. We’re seeing the gains that are being made and we want that to continue.”
Spartan Baseball is akin to a gym membership. Participants pay a monthly fee and work out on average three days per week, the sessions lasting anywhere from 60 to 90 minutes. Having coached baseball for 14 years, and as the father of three involved with the sport, Nash understands the importance of tempo and moving at a quick pace, even when it comes to elements of practice.
“It’s not about standing around, then stepping into the cage and start swinging away,” Nash said. “We want quality. A player may only see eight pitches, so let’s get focused, get eight good swings and then move on.”
Waccamaw’s Luke Montenery is a regular at the facility and credits Spartan’s methodology for the progress he’s made during the offseason.
“This is the most productive offseason I’ve had thanks to the generosity of the Spartan organization,” Montenery said. “It’s a great facility and a fantastic place to go when you’re serious about putting in work and getting better as a player.
“Being fast-paced, it keeps me focused on the task at hand. I feel I have made a considerable amount of improvement.”
That players have a year-round training option should benefit not only Waccamaw’s program, but other schools in the area as well.
“Kids need options where they can get in their work on their own,” WHS coach Jeff Gregory said. “They’re not able to be involved with their high school coaches and teams all year.
“Having a facility like Spartan baseball in our area is a great thing. We have several players that are training there and I’m hopeful will see the benefits of that when we start getting ready for the season. And if [Spartan Baseball] can pull in kids from up toward Myrtle Beach and down into Georgetown, those programs should be better for it as well.”
Just as the statistical revolution has transformed baseball when it comes to evaluating players, it is also having the same impact on the style of play. And this has trickled down from the professional level into college and now high schools.
So-called junkballers – pitchers who specialize in off-speed offerings – are fading away. The new generation of hurlers are interested in velocity and ways to maintain that velocity for extended lengths of time.
For position players, defensive inadequacies at certain spots can be offset by offensive production. Slap-hitting to the opposite field is somewhat passé. The trend now is for extra fast hits. An elevated swing place is more likely to get the ball into the air. Bat speed – swinging harder – produces the force to get the ball deep into the outfield gaps, or over the fence.
Exit velocity – how fast the ball comes off the bat – is one of the measurables that Spartan focuses on.
“The weighted bats are a part of that,” Nash said. “We have several that we use and they’re weighted at different [points]. It builds strength and increases bat speed. But the challenge is also to feel the differences in where the bats are weighted and begin to hone your swing.”
“The program has helped me with increasing bat speed and exit velocity,” Montenery said. “I’ve also found a swing plane that has allowed me to make consistent and solid contact. I’m driving pitches that I wasn’t able to last year.”