For the next couple of months, 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 Mike McDermott, founder and director of a baseball academy that features a 15u-18u branch (MAC Elite) as well as a youth program called Hooligans, all based in Rio Rancho, NM. McDermott was born and raised in New Mexico and played collegiately in New Mexico and Texas, but knee and shoulder injuries forced him out of uniform early, which ended up leading him into coaching.
Q: Once your playing career was finished, how did it work out that you’d remain in the game?
A: I always wondered why I’d get called back into the game just get to get hurt again and not be able to play, but I realized it was to coach the game. I wasn’t here to play it, I was here to coach it and help kids – it became a great thing, because I can teach them the error of my ways. I don’t try to teach them all the things I did, I talk about the mistakes I made along the way, to help them prevent the same thing.
My first time coaching was at 19, a local middle school team with some of my friends. I enjoyed it, it made me miss the game, then I went back and played and got hurt again. I coached at the local high school, and my old coach got me into doing lessons with players in town, and I thought that was a good way to pay the bills while I’m finishing my degree. It took on a life of its own – the lessons turned from one or two to 10, then to 30, and all of the sudden, I had players who wanted to start teams together. We had two teams the first year we started (2015).
Q: What is the preferred mindset you wish to see from your athletes?
A: I try to teach all the kids that in terms of priorities, baseball isn’t in the top three. It’s faith, family, your schoolwork and then baseball, if they want to put it even that high. I try to teach about things that are really important and that will carry you through. I know I’m a walking example that you're one injury away from baseball being taken away, but people can’t take your faith, family or education away. The game is something they need to work hard at and take as far as they want or can, but I don’t want it to be the thing that defines them. The mistake I made was always introducing myself as a baseball player; I want my guys to know they are much more. Baseball teaches character, and I try to get more of that out of the game over making money or accolades and attention.
Q: How did you feel jumping into the unknown and starting your own academy?
A: I was terrified, to be honest. I rented out a 2,000-square-foot little shop; my half was a couple of cages hung up; there was a fence between and the other half was a mechanic shop. When I held my first camp, 10 kids showed up, and I thought man, I’ve made a huge mistake. Within six months, I realized I needed a bigger space.
It was very eye-opening and I went through a cavalcade of emotions; it emboldened me to keep pursuing things. God has everything happen for a reason; how opportunities would come my way or be taken away, it was all for a purpose. After that scary time at the beginning, I try not to get nervous about what might come, take it in stride.
Q: What are some other core philosophies your players and parents must be comfortable with at the academy?
A: We try to teach kids at a young age that this is not a pay-to-play idea. It’s not, hey, your parents paid the fee, so it doesn’t matter how hard you work and you’ll still get your innings and your at-bats. You’ll get the opportunity to prove yourself and earn a spot. We’re big on competition inside our own building and our own teams. If you’re the shortstop and playing great, you’ll be the shortstop – if you want to be the shortstop, you have to beat that guy out. Our players learn they have to work hard, and that hard work pays off and matters.
We really try to teach the kids baseball IQ. If they did something and it works out the right way, we still pull them aside and say, it worked out this time, but nine times out of 10 it won’t. It’s a hands-on approach where every little opportunity and instance in the game is a teaching moment. We’re not win at all costs, but we like to be competitive. It should mean something when they put on our hat and jersey; you earned this, and it comes with responsibility like having good grades or being a solid member of the community or working hard 100 percent of the time.
Q: How have Pathway Baseball events provided value and impact for your teams and families?
A: Pathway is bar none the best event we’ve ever attended, and we’ve been to all of them. The way Gino goes about things and the whole group associated with Pathway … the communication about who will be there, what to expect. We’ve never been disappointed; it’s under-promised and over-delivered. We’ve never left a Pathway event wanting more or questioning anything that was done. One of the things I love is we get an idea of the coaches who are going to be (scouting) there, and those coaches are there. And it’s not like a rumor that they were there, or someone saw them in passing – we talked to them ourselves, and saw them at our games.
I also love the transparency. At the (2019 UNC Fall Classic), Gino said the coaches will be watching the 2020 and 2019 guys, so the 2021 teams will play a tournament format. I loved that honesty. We have parents all the time asking us at other events, why aren’t scouts watching my kids? Well, your kid is 15 … and there’s a bunch of 18-year-olds here. Gino calls it as it is. And, it’s a great market because not every team has 15 guys who can play for a Power 5 team. But there’s a ton of guys who can play at a D-II or good JUCO or D-III; he’s even contacted players of mine now and helping them get recruited. He’s doing it for the best interest of the kids, which is what this all should be about anyway.