Baseball: Local stars help the kids
By Mike London
ěYou are the most important person on the baseball field,î former Catawba All-American catcher Ryan Query barks with the authority of a drill sergeant. ěYou are the only one who can see everything. You touch the ball every play. You are the quarterback.î
Six wide-eyed, mitt-carrying youngsters who have identified themselves as aspiring catchers stare at each other with a new sense of pride and get down to serious stuff ó learning the fine art of receiving and framing pitches from a pro.
Baseball is work, but itís also fun. Baseball, when you can see yourself getting better under the guidance of athletes good enough to get paid to play, is even more fun.
Query, who caught for Atlanta Braves farm clubs last summer, is doing his coaching on a cold, blustery, miserable winter Saturday, a day when most young athletes would be sleeping in or spending time with their Xbox. But itís nice, warm and cozy indoors at Extreme Performance, a new business located on Kentucky Street, just a few blocks from downtown Salisbury.
On the outside, Extreme Performance looks like just another big green warehouse. Inside, thereís a whole lot going on, with six spacious batting cages and expert instruction.
ěI just wish weíd had something like this when I was growing up,î Query said.
Over the weekend, minor league infielders Chris Ahearn and Daniel Wagner and pro pitchers Garrett Sherrill and Zach Ward joined Query as instructors at a winter camp.
Ahearn, 24, is the director of baseball operations for Extreme Performance. He batted .356 his senior season at Catawba in 2009, but it was his glove and wheels that got him drafted by San Diego in the 39th round.
Catawba coach Jim Gantt says Ahearn has the hands and arm to play shortstop for anyone, and he has special speed.
Ahearn ran on a 4A state-championship 4×100 relay team at Charlotteís Providence High and has covered the 60 ó the standard distance for timing baseball players ó in a blazing 6.47 seconds. When Ahearn talks to youngsters about the correct technique for running the bases, they should be all ears.
Ahearn wasnít 100 percent much of his senior year at Newman Park, but he missed just a handful of games.
ěYou want to be out there for the team, and when big-league scouts are coming there to watch you, it doesnít make a good impression if youíre sitting out,î Ahearn said.
His pro debut in the summer of 2009 was rocky. He struggled offensively with San Diegoís rookie-level team in Arizona and played in only 19 games.
ěMy knee was bothering me, and when they did an MRI, they said Iíd been playing with a torn patellar tendon,î Ahearn said. ěIt was a pretty serious deal.î
The Padres paid for surgery, a good sign they believe in Ahearnís future. He missed just about all of the 2010 season, but he was able to return for some fall instructional league games and is now 100 percent.
ěThe big positive was the whole time I was out with the knee and couldnít do fielding and running stuff, I was able to work on my hitting,î Ahearn said. ěThe Padres completely reconstructed my swing.î
He said the obvious change is heís following though with two hands now instead of one.
ěThey kind of threw me out of the cage one day for swinging one-handed,î Ahearn said with a laugh. ěI can see a difference. Iím getting more extension, staying on the ball longer, driving the ball with more power.î
Ahearn, Query and Wagner, a second baseman coming off a terrific season as a hitter, baserunner and fielder with the Kannapolis Intimidators, will handle lessons at Extreme Performance until they head off to their Spring Training destinations. Brian Boltz, a Catawba and American Legion legend who was a second-round pick by Atlanta in 1989, is on board to work with pitchers.
Ahearn, who posted a 3.97 GPA at Catawba, will likely make personal training and instruction his career once his playing days are over.
ěJim Gantt did so much for me, I wanted to stay in this area,î he said. ěThis is what Iíve had in mind doing as far as my future, and this opportunity has put me ahead of schedule. Itís let me skip a few years.î
Adrian Whitley Gantt, Catawbaís assistant softball coach, handles day-to-day operations at Extreme Performance. David Eller, of Makson Construction, is her business partner.
ěWeíre thrilled to bring something like this to Salisbury,î Adrian Gantt said. ěThereís been a need for it, and itís something that can really help our youth. David Eller spearheaded this and made it happen, and itís really a dream come true for me. Iíve given softball lessons for years, but now weíve got a great indoor facility to do it year-round.î
Most of the clientele for Extreme Performance will be baseball and softball players looking to develop specific skills, but strength and conditioning programs are offered that can be valuable in any athletic endeavor.
Extreme Performance is backing four girls fast-pitch softball travel teams (10-under, 12-under, 14-under and 16-under). Theyíll be operating under the banner of ěWhitleyís Warriors.î
The plan is to add four baseball teams as well.
Extreme Performance plans to hold its grand opening this Saturday from 10 a.m until 2 p.m.