In case you haven’t checked your calendar lately, spring training camps have opened, exhibition games are in full swing, and the start of the 2015 Major League Baseball season is only weeks away. But for more than 5,000 kids in Southern Nevada who are connected at various times to the Las Vegas Baseball Academy, baseball season is a year-round experience.
No, these are not Little Leaguers. These are not the Mountain Ridge players who drew national attention during their ultimate, albeit astonishing, march to last year’s Little League National Championship in Williamsport, Pa.
These are boys ages 8 to 18 whose interests are club baseball and playing on teams within their own age groups. They’re involved in a deep-rooted passion for the game. In some cases, it’s an obsession, with ambitions that ultimately carry many into organized baseball. For others, it opens the door to college baseball scholarships.
Club baseball was launched in many of the sunny climes more than 20 years ago and has quickly developed into a national mania.
“Las Vegas adopted the club baseball mentality during the mid-1990s, at a time when many other Sun Belt states were just waking up to the essentials of club baseball,” said Mike Martin, who founded the Las Vegas Baseball Academy in 1984 as a part-time venture.
But the academy, 7904 Waterfalls Ave., became a full-time occupation for Martin three years later. It reached a level of excellence when teams of youngsters from all areas of Southern Nevada began to participate in baseball academy tournaments against similar teams from other sectors of the country, especially during the summer months, late fall and Christmastime.
“A team of our 12-year-olds has been going to Cooperstown, N.Y., every summer for the last 15 years to participate in a national invitation tournament played at Cooperstown Dreams Park,” Martin said.
Cooperstown, home of the National Baseball Hall of Fame Museum, is a shrine for baseball addicts and especially youngsters. Martin is especially gratified that an academy team won one of the weeklong tournaments in Cooperstown in 2013, beating out 103 other teams from across the country.
“We had a 12-year-old Las Vegas kid on that team who was so good that he was contacted by a Pac-12 college,” Martin said proudly.
The academy, which is in its 25th year as a full-time operation, not only teaches the fundamentals of baseball but dwells on mental attitude, physical skills and even psychological aspects of the game. It has a full-time staff of nine coaches under Martin’s leadership that grows to as many as 30 during the summer months and Christmas break, including college baseball coaches and former Major League players, many of whom provide individual instruction.
Martin, who lives in the Desert Shores area, is a baseball fundamentalist. He explained that the academy is dedicated to bringing out the finest in youngsters who have baseball ambitions.
“I think the best way to say it is that we help cream rise to the top,” said Martin, who was a catcher in the San Diego Padres organization for many years before he got his chance with the Chicago Cubs in 1986.
“I was called up to the Cubbies in August of that year. I played with them for seven weeks,” Martin reminisced.
He said the idea of establishing an academy to help bring out the best in kids with baseball ambitions goes back to 1981.
“Jerry DeSimone and I were playing winter ball in South America,” Martin recalled, referring to a shortstop friend who also played in the Padres organization. “We were roommates, and we talked about an idea that eventually developed into club baseball and the LVBA for kids. We started things on a limited basis.”
That’s because both men were still active players, he explained. In fact, Martin and DeSimone played for the 1983 Las Vegas Stars, which was the first year of Pacific Coast League baseball in Las Vegas. That team was inducted into the Southern Nevada Sports Hall of Fame in 2007.
As for the academy’s bragging rights, he said, “I know of about 25 of our kids every year who are playing in organized baseball — and there are lots more on college scholarships.”
Herb Jaffe was an op-ed columnist and investigative reporter for most of his 39 years at the Star-Ledger of Newark, N.J. His most recent novel, “Double Play,” is now available. Contact him at email@example.com.