Always baseball season
By J. LEVI BURNFIN
The familiar sound of the smack of a baseball glove and the ping of a baseball bat hitting a ball squarely rang out through the pouring rain.
A father and son played catch while two other boys warmed up their arms before taking soft toss in a batting cage.
But it was a rainy, cloudy, miserable day in September. It was football weather and certainly not baseball season with the high school gearing up to play its second game of the season.
But at the Redhawk Academy, baseball season is now year round at its indoor facility in the West Pavilion at the Finney County fairgrounds.
At least, that's why Marcus Sabata, a long-time youth baseball coach of recreation and travel teams, and a board of donors, began the academy, to give local kids the chance to play and learn the ins and outs of baseball year round.
"One thing I realized when we were going to other communities and playing, we were playing kids that play all year round," he said. "It's tough to compete."
So in conjunction with Garden City High School coach Bill Wilson and freshman coach Joe Kraft, Sabata began the academy with only a few players signed up. Now, the academy has more than 50 members training with the three coaches or using the facility on their own to fine-tune their games.
"It keeps me on target and it's something to do during the offseason," said Auston Waetzig, the first member of the academy that opened in April.
The area is shared with a boxing gym on the other side of the building but still has plenty of space to contain a full batting cage, a full-length pitching bullpen and several individual soft toss and batting tee stations.
"It has helped me improve my batting skills and pitching," said the 13-year-old first baseman and pitcher.
Under Wilson's tutelage, Waetzig has been able to tweak his batting stance and pitching motion, which, Waetzig says, has improved his power in both areas. And it's that age the academy focuses their efforts towards, even though it's open to all ages.
"Our ultimate goal number one, is to get the kids stronger and number two, learn more about the game so when they get to April, when they actually start playing on a rec team or start practicing with their travel team, they can actually start doing baseball specific activities right out of the gate," Sabata said. "In order to be competitive in this day and age, you've really got to put some time and effort into it because that's who you're competing with."
The 43-year old Sabata played under Wilson in high school before sustaining an eye injury that limited his ability to play. However, he has coached his kids throughout their youth baseball career, including the academy's one employee outside of the coaches, Sabata's son Ryan.
Ryan Sabata is a junior at Garden City High School this year and is now, like his dad, playing for Wilson. As is Sabata's youngest son Justin, who is a sophomore.
The high school team is just one of a dozen teams that patronize the academy that offers one-on-one programs designed specifically for the different positions, according to the elder Marcus Sabata.
"These kids are just starved (for instruction)," Marcus Sabata said. "I have such great kids that are so coachable."
The overall impact of the academy on the culture of baseball in the area is still yet to be determined. But now that the offseason is here, Sabata hopes it will make a significant mark on the area baseball teams in the Spring.
The academy is open on Monday and Wednesday nights and Saturday mornings during the offseason with extended hours in season.