Organization Created Around Development
Cory Sumner knows you can’t walk before you crawl. Better yet, he knows a cherry can’t be picked before it’s grown. The co-founder and owner of Batters Box Baseball, Sumner takes pride in building up players opposed to going out and creating an all-star team after a player has reached an elite level, cherry-picking if you will.
“There's other programs around here where some would just pick guys and not really help them at all,” Sumner said on why he started a travel team. “Some people describe it as they pick cherries, they don't grow cherries. We want to grow and develop players and provide exposure for them.”
The pride Sumner takes in developing a player goes to the roots of Batters Box. Based in Collierville, Tenn., Batters Box started as an instructional and lessons organization, it did not set out as a select team in a pursuit of titles and trophies.
“We've been in our training facility since 2009, at that point we didn't plan on having any in teams, we just wanted to do instruction and rent out our facility to teams,” Sumner said. “We had so many clients and a lot asked why we didn't do teams. People were looking for something different, a better way of doing things.”
Batters Box fielded its first teams in the summer of 2010, when Sumner created a travel team that was a mix of players from 16 to 18-year-old and one 16-year-old team.
It didn’t take long for Sumner and Batters Box to see they could build off what they were doing with a facility and instruction, and advance it to the next level in fielding a quality team, providing greater exposure for the players they were developing.
“Our first summer of having a team we were playing down at Ole Miss against one of our cross-town rivals that had been around for a while. We were able to beat them in front of the coaches (Ole Miss head coach Mike) Bianco was there, other coaches were there watching.
“That put us on the map, that we were for real. We could compete and beat an established program.”
Heading into its eighth summer as an established program, Batters Box will field around 20 teams from ages seven to 18. Four years ago the organization introduced a youth program, bringing kids from seven-years-old to 14 into the Batters Box program alongside the high school players. The introduction of the younger kids has allowed Batters Box to stay true to its philosophical goals and program mission.
“Our main emphasis is a two-pronged approach, player development plus exposure,” Sumner said. “It’s not just one or the other, but try to develop players and provide them with exposure and help promote them.”
The holistic approach of development and exposure is what keeps Sumner, a four-year starter at Samford, coming back day after day.
“The biggest reward is when you really help a kid.” Sumner said. “Not the kid that's throwing 96 and everyone already knows about him and wants him, but when you help and develop a kid, showcase a kid and talk to coaches, promote him, get him a place to play and then you go see him, and see him succeed at that level or professional level making it into pro ball.”
As Batters Box looks to build off seven years of success, Sumner is doubling-down on development.
“We're continually trying to build up our youth teams. We're trying to train those kids and feed our own system, have kids that have been in the program and know how we like to do things. Keep it aspirational where those kids want to move up to the older teams.”
For all players, Batters Box’ facility underwent a major renovation a year ago with an expansion and a field with addition of a fully-turfed infield behind it. The investment Sumner says is instrumental in development as the organization has not wavered in focus.
“The focus has to be on the players and what's best for the players,” Sumner said. “Whether it's getting a kid an appearance in a game, where, if I'm absolutely trying to win that game he's not going to get a couple of innings, but maybe they're someone there to see him, wants to see him. So, I'm going to give him a couple of innings.
“Our ultimate goal is to get kids to the next level, it's not to win a tournament that nobody will remember in a couple of months later. Do we want to win? Yes. Do we win a lot? Yes. The player's exposure and what's best for them takes priority over just winning a game.”
That sounds like an organization created around development, not one in pursuit of wins and losses, putting together the cream of the crop, or what’s picked from the crop.