For the next several weeks, we’ll be shining a spotlight on some top-caliber and high-character club baseball organizations that have helped Pathway Baseball establish a foothold in tournament offerings at 15u-18u.
Next up, we have Luke Town of Advanced Baseball Academy in suburban Kansas City, KS. Town, 50, started playing catch at age 4-5 and had the benefit of a mother who was an amazing athlete. Up until age 18, Town’s mother could still catch him, and he was throwing 90-92 mph. Town became a working musician after his college baseball hopes skidded to a halt, but he’s always had a heart and mind for the sport.
Q: You had an unusual experience as a young player that opened the door for your insight into arm strength – what happened?
A: Well, at age 17, I got in fight at drive-in and broke my pinky on my throwing hand just before the season started. I walked around for six weeks with cast, and the season was pretty much done. A little later, I put on different cast where I could close fingers, but not quite grip a softball, and I wanted to play on my dad’s company team. I went to grinder at an oil company and grinded it off so could hold a softball. I was playing catch with my mow and hurt my arm and elbow, so I stopped. One night I was watching the news; this guy was throwing a football, which was about the same weight as the cast. I starting throwing and mimicking the football throw, and noticed I didn’t have any pain. Playing on dad’s softball team, was in LF one night, caught the ball at the fence and threw out runner at plate from third, with the cast on. I went back to pitching; I was throwing 81, and after the cast I was throwing 90.
In college, my coach changed my motion. I had an injury, and that took me out of D-I baseball, in 1989. I started coaching in 1990, loved the game, loved what it taught me. I got into music business at 21, had a record deal at 24, did that and also coached from 1994-2005. In 2000, I got an interest in biomechanics and kinesiology, started taking some courses. I wanted to find out why I got hurt. As a pitching coach the last thing I wanted to do was hurt a player.
Q: So you have an interest in the biomechanics, but what else moved you toward coaching?
A: I wanted to contribute to the sport I loved. I coached at the local high school, and the six years I was there, seven kids committed suicide. The first funeral I went to and saw one of my former players laying in a casket, it changed who I was. I went from being a transactional coach to a transformational coach pretty much overnight. I knew I was part of the problem.
I formed ABA in 2011. I turned down a Triple A job, because I felt I could have a larger effect at the youth level and help kids through some of the adversity they are faced with these days. Dove head first into mental health side of it as well.
There was a 14-year-old player of mine, first introduced to me as D-1, but his name was Derek. His dad called him D-1 because he was going to be a D-I football player. I told him I’m going to call you Derek, and you can call me Coach Town. This kid had perfection issues, performance anxiety. He was an early bloomer, but he stopped growing at 5-10. That summer, he was pitching for us and had a five-run lead in the 7th, got wild … I wanted to keep him in and let him work his way out of it. We ended up losing (on an infield error) and his dad runs out and says grab your (gear), we’re leaving before anymore of the loser rubs off on us. I say, it’s the last game for you then, that’s not what I want around our players and it’s not our culture. Fast forward, senior year, no coaches are calling for football. He turns down couple of JUCO offers, starts hanging around different crew, getting into drugs and alcohol, then commits suicide three days before graduation, leaves a note apologizing to the dad for disappointing him. Stories like that drive me. That’s why I do what I do.
Q: Was it stressful opening up your own academy?
A: I’ve been self-employed since 21, so taking a risk didn’t bother me. I’ve done a lot of public speaking. I knew it would have ups and downs, but knew I could make it work. The first year we had three teams, next we had 14, and now I cut it off at 20. We are a program, age 8 to 18, baseball and softball. I run 90 percent of the training, and make sure coaches we hire are implementing what the program is teaching. It is process driven, not results driven. Coaches teach first and third plays at age 10, multiple bunt defenses at young ages. Our 10-year-old team picked off 60 runners, and threw out 25-plus stealing. When they get to be 16, 17, pitchers know how to control the running game.
I stay out of the way, manage games and coach in practice. We’re not going to play a lot of frivolous game. You have to teach kids how to fall in love with the process. Parents have to get it, that we will get better playing fewer games and do the work in practice.
Q: What’s been your experience playing with Pathway Baseball?
A: Our high school teams travel; we do a lot of showcases and I’ve been to just about every one out there. The first event we played at was Pathway Albuquerque, and it was the best experience I’ve had. You are doing it for the right reasons. I watched those college coaches run an all-day pro-style workout and never heard one coach complain.
Gino (Grasso) absolutely handles the details and understand that the little things matter. I couldn’t have been more satisfied. I told him we are all in, wherever you guys go. Nice fields, lot of coaches there, games run properly, banners looked good, and college coaches on board with giving advice to the players. Anything that was needed, Gino was on top of it.