Goss: Slammers’ Brian Smith, dad Bill begin indoor facility
December 19, 2012 9:04PM
Brian Smith (above) and his dad, Bill, have begun a youth indoor baseball training facility in Mokena called Baseball Institute. | File photo
Updated: January 21, 2013 2:19PM
Brian Smith and Ryan Quigley had a good thing going in summer 2011.
It was automatic. Whenever the Joliet Slammers led after seven innings — and it was often — the starting pitcher could feel secure turning the game over to Smith for the eighth inning and Quigley for the ninth.
Quigley wound up establishing a Frontier League saves record during the Slammers’ march to the championship. Smith, who pitched at Northern Illinois University and whose favorite ballplayer is Mariano Rivera, probably was the most effective relief pitcher in the league that year, strolling to the mound each game with the Metallica song “Enter Sandman” playing in his mind.
“ ‘Quigs’ and I became best friends that summer,” Smith said. “There’s a huge difference between confidence and arrogance, and you could not find more confident eighth- and ninth-inning guys than us.
“You look at our teammates’ faces, and they knew game was over. Starters would tell the coaches, ‘I’m exhausted, turn it over to (Smith and Quigley).’ You don’t usually see that.”
The 2012 season did not turn out as well for the Slammers, but there was a constant. You always have time on the long bus rides to kick things around with your teammates.
“That’s really how it got going,” Smith said of his new venture, Baseball Institute. “We had plenty of time on the bus, and we were talking about what to do after our playing days were over. We came up with this, and after the season we got something rolling.”
With the help of his dad, Bill, who played at University of St. Francis for Gordie Gillespie, Smith has begun the new facility. Bill Smith is the president and director of baseball operations, Brian the vice president and director of player development.
The 13,000-square-foot structure, Quarry-Mokena, is located at 8685 Springlake Drive in Mokena. It includes five 70-foot cages, two 65-foot cages, an Iron Mike and a 110-by-45-foot infield.
“My dad and I wanted to use our baseball minds and networking skills to develop a top-of-the-line instructor team to go with a facility to use for private instruction and team rentals,” said Smith, who was a pitching coach for St. Francis last season but relinquished that position to concentrate on the new youth facility.
The team of instructors is loaded with names familiar to Slammers fans and fans of local baseball in general. Those with ties to the Slammers include Chris Pack, Erik Lis, Billy Petrick and Ron Biga. Trevor Feeney (Joliet Catholic), who pitched for several years in the Detroit Tigers organization; Dan Atkenson (Sandburg); Kit Kopach (2006 Cubs draft pick); Kevin Rios (New York Mets draft pick) and Jason Smith (Brian’s older brother) also are among the instructors.
“A majority of the baseball facilities like this in the Chicago area operate only in winter, getting kids ready for the season,” said Brian Smith, who hopes to pitch for the Slammers again in 2013. “That’s fine. We feel we can pursue our dreams over the summer, too, with the guys we have who are retired from baseball. If kids need something hands-on, we will have someone available.”
Smith plans to put experience into practice.
“When you’ve coached and played as many years as I have, you’ve seen some goofy indoor practice situations,” he said. “We feel we can adapt to teams’ needs so parents don’t have to walk in here and see a chaotic situation.
“We’re toward the end of the process of becoming a not-for-profit organization. Once that goes through, we’ll start looking for donations. We want to lower the cost for the community while bringing in coaches for clinics. We want to turn this into an educational thing as well as a physical thing, but the last thing we want to do is have it be a burden on people’s bottom lines. We want it to be as affordable as possible.”
Individuals and teams interested in trying out the facility can email BaseballInstitute@gmail.com or contact Smith at (708) 954-7544.
“We are also on Facebook, where we have done 99 percent of our advertising and marketing,” Smith said. “You can follow us on Twitter @BBallInstitute as well.”
An indoor baseball facility hardly is a novel idea. But with an emphasis on developing the total package — leadership skills, teamwork and social and moral values, in addition to baseball and athletic skills — with instructors who are current and former professional ballplayers, Smith believes Baseball Institute can be a hit.
A few items on the football recruiting front:
Plainfield East All-Area linebacker Brennen Rompa has committed to NCAA Division II Upper Iowa University, while Plainfield North lineman Kiefer Ketelhut has committed to South Dakota, which plays in the Football Championship Subdivision.
Plainfield South junior linebacker Clifton Garrett is attracting major Division I attention. He has an offer from Nebraska, according to Foxsports Next, and Illinois, Wisconsin, Ohio State, Michigan State, Iowa and Vanderbilt are among those reported to have shown interest.
Finally, coach Jeff Monken, a Joliet Central graduate, continues to sport one of the nation’s top FCS programs at Georgia Southern. The Eagles reached the national semifinals before being ousted 23-20 by North Dakota State.