TOP KEYS BASEBALL PROGRAM DEVELOPS SKILLS AND HELPS MAINTAIN A HEALTHY MIND

Coach Doug Mientkiewicz watches the players take the lead from first base during a stealing drill. JIM McCARTHY/Keys Weekly

A banner with the words “Outwork ‘Em” hangs from the dugout at the Coral Shores baseball field at Founders Park in Islamorada. The field, home of the Hurricanes baseball team, is also a place where baseball players from little league through high school come during the summer to sharpen their skills and wits.

The Steady Bats program began after the 2020 high school baseball season ended. “Canes high school baseball coaches Joe Molinaro, Doug Mientkiewicz and Paul Varga realized that players needed more than regular season games if they were to compete with the top teams in the division. For young baseball players, it was an opportunity to work alongside high school players and receive top-notch instruction from Canes baseball coaches.

Fifty players signed up, including one woman, in Steady Bats’ inaugural year of 2021. Molinaro said the program’s second year remains open to men and women ages 10 to 18.

“We can’t wait to see the kids who signed up last season as they return to continue their journey,” Molinaro said. “But we also want to see new faces.”

Young baseball players take part in pitching drills.

Mientkiewicz, a 2004 World Series champion with the Boston Red Sox and a 2000 Summer Olympics gold medalist with Team USA, said the number of players participating in the Steady Bats has been increasing over time. Not only that, Mienkiewicz said he noticed a growth in high school players. As for the young players, they have started to come out of their shell.

“The young kids went from being very shy and aloof to the point where we asked them to split the group every practice. The high school students helped the young people. Young children enjoyed it. »

In Steady Bats, Molinaro said younger players witness and hear how older players are coached.

“They also feel comfortable on a bigger pitch and see what it takes. It gives them that experience that they wouldn’t get anywhere else,” he said.

The age range of players in the program made coaches realize that it could be difficult to keep everyone engaged. It was then that Pam Molinaro, Joe’s wife, offered to help and suggested her experience as a mental health therapist as an additional tool. While the coaches focus on teaching and reinforcing the fundamentals of baseball, Pam focuses on the mental aspect. Coaches and Coral Shores athletic director Rich Russell saw the benefit, so much so that she joined the high school baseball team as an assistant coach last season.

Pam said she provided mental health counseling to teams and individuals, including a client who ran the Tokyo Marathon.

“I ran the Tokyo Marathon because a customer went into panic mode on race day and needed support,” she said. “Mental strength cannot be passed on to someone. Sometimes a person just needs a little extra support, and if they’re willing to put in the effort, I’m willing to give at least 26 miles.

“With Steady Bats, I work with children to first understand how their brain influences their physical performance,” she continued. “I work with kids to get them mentally prepared, whether it’s during stretching, batting practices, or field drills.”

Joe Molinaro said Pam’s involvement has improved communication between players and coaches.

“In addition to building the team, it’s about giving kids the opportunity to have someone with mental health counseling experience at their fingertips,” Joe said. “Some kids aren’t comfortable talking about issues. She is an open door. She can focus on someone having a bad day and help them through whatever they are facing.

Baseball requires agility and power, but a sharp and healthy mind is also essential to a player’s success.

“When the legs are strong and the brain is faster and you don’t feel tired, you don’t make mistakes,” Mientkiewicz said.

Year 2 of Steady Bats will continue to focus on baseball fundamentals to improve skills. Pitching-receiving sessions and other hands-on training will be provided by coaches.

Sessions are held Tuesdays and Thursdays from 6-7:30 p.m. at the Coral Shores Baseball Field. Each session is $25.

Those wishing to register can visit www.stabybats.org and click on the registration tab. Those wishing to sponsor the program can visit the website and click on the get involved tab.