What's the best route when it comes to specialized training?

News-DemocratJuly 27, 2013 

Parker Beine and Brendan Saak are senior teammates on the baseball team at Belleville West High School. Both are from the Millstadt area and both will likely be playing college baseball next season.

While both have natural talent and ability and both are successful, Saak has taken numerous hitting and pitching lessons.

Beine has used a more scaled back approach.

"I never really did a lot of pitching lessons," said Beine, a hard-throwing right-hander with Division I recruiting interest from Eastern Illinois and several other schools. "I played long toss a lot and got my arm strong over the years. One of my friend's dad (Mike Len) helped me growing up.

"I could have probably done a few lessons, but I felt like just playing every day and throwing and pitching was enough."

Saak has worked with instructors at the Gateway Grizzlies Baseball Academy in Sauget since he was 11.

"They've really helped me," Saak said. "You have to hit as much as you can between games and seasons to get an edge. The lessons were something I definitely needed and they helped me out."

Saak has college recruiting interest primarily as an outfielder, but also pitches.

"Phil Warren is probably my main influence," Saak said of the Grizzlies manager and his hitting coach. "He's the person that if I'm in a slump I'll call. He's definitely the hitting mentor that I have."

West coach Lee Meyer, who pitched at Southern Illinois University Carbondale, sees the benefit in hitting and pitching lessons.

But do those lessons lead to a baseball scholarship?

"Let's face it, the innate ability and the natural ability is what a person has to have to perform at a high level," Meyer said. "You're either born with it or you're not. Can you make adjustments to add a few miles per hour? Yes you can.

"But it doesn't mean if I get an instructor at 8 or 9 years old that I'm going to throw 90. Will it get them a scholarship? Absolutely not. They have to perform and somebody has to like them."

Meyer's son, recent West graduate and Missouri State shortstop recruit Aaron Meyer, got instruction from former minor-leaguer Dan Rohlfing. Like many other metro-east youngsters, Aaron Meyer also had pitching lessons with former San Diego Padres scout and longtime area college coach Van Smith, who died last year.

"What a great teacher he was with the game and he did a lot of instruction for us," Meyer said. "It was a nice deal, especially for younger kids. I think Van did a tremendous job with that and teaching the basics."

Coach Meyer said his son's teams also took advantage of indoor training at the Batter's Box facility at the Family Sportsplex in Belleville as well as another in south St. Louis County.

Meyer said the key to lessons is finding a qualified instructor that connects with your child.

"I think there's a lot of positives in it," he said. "It's always good for kids to hear it from someone else and something might click along the way.

"Kids have an opportunity to take advantage if they want to -- and that's something that's changed in baseball over the last 10 or 15 years."

Meyer said the majority of his high school players have taken part in some type of private hitting or pitching instruction.

"That's just kind of the way baseball is right now," Meyer said. "I certainly don't think it's mandatory, but I think their fathers dive into it when the kids are very young. I think the kids need to grow up and have fun playing. (Instruction) can burn some kids out in the long run.

"But I do think as they get older there's a science to it and the kids need to understand that."

Meyer's favorite advice to fathers?

"Play catch with your son."

O'Fallon High baseball coach Jason Portz believes private instruction has permeated youth baseball.

"I don't think there's a kid that's come into our program that at some point hasn't had a lesson or a package of lessons somewhere along the line," Portz said. "It's a side of the profession that everybody has an opinion on."

Portz and his coaching staff offer camps, clinics and private lessons.

"That's what baseball is all about, gaining a consistency in your skills," said Portz, who admits not all private instruction leads to better players. "People think that the more work or the more lessons you put in, the most opportunity you're going to have down the road. I hope that it's not equating that to college scholarships or varsity starting positions."

Contact reporter Norm Sanders at 239-2454, nsanders@bnd.com or on Twitter @NormSanders

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