The BPA Way Is to Teach Sports Skills and to Teach Life Skills to Young Ballplayers
It’s not a secret southern California is a hotbed for amateur baseball talent. Baseball America’s top 200 draft prospects had two of the top three high school prospect coming out of SoCal. Six of the top 16 high school prospects, six of the top 35 overall prospects when including college talent, come from the three counties of Los Angeles, Orange and San Diego. Weather conducive to year-round baseball helps refine the skills of prep players from the Golden State.
With such a propensity to produce elite players, it’s also not a secret the travel baseball landscape in southern California is very competitive. In being able to provide the next wave of talent to such college baseball bluebloods as UCLA, USC, Fullerton and Long Beach State, travel baseball organizations strive to find a way to differentiate itself from the pack as the premier destiny for players to hone their ability and receive the best possible exposure.
For Baseball Performance Academy, it’s less what they promote, there’s no witty Twitter hashtag nor trumpeted slogan, that attracts players, instead, it’s a focus on those within that has seen BPA rise through the ranks.
“We're not trying to run around and get the best players, we're trying to make our players the best players that they can be,” said BPA Director of Team Development Jared Sandler. “We have a ton of players in our area. We're very fortunate, and we don't recruit. I think where we differ from most of the other major organizations is they recruit.”
The ability to get the most out of their players start with a true commitment in investing in the overall player. BPA’s stated motto, or the BPA Way is “to teach sports skills, but also, and more importantly, to teach life skills to young ballplayers.” For Sandler, to teach life skills is to create a relationship that extends beyond the diamond.
“People that play in our program, they come and join and they want to play,” said Sandler, who helped start BPA, first as an academy within a facility in 2008. “A lot of the kids that we coach, I've coached since they were nine, ten, eight, six, young. It's a lot of years watching somebody grow up. It's pretty cool to watch them get drafted, watch them play college baseball.”
When Sandler was speaking to Wilson Premier Baseball to discuss the background of BPA, he was in an airport, ready to take off to Seattle. There, he would see right-handed pitcher Zach Wolf, the sophomore closer for Seattle University, a BPA alum.
“He started playing for me late, the summer after his junior year, no offers, nobody was really on him,” Sandler said. “Undersized, 5'7 right-handed pitcher. The WWBA Tournament in Georgia with 350 teams, he threw the championship game and we won 1-0. He's a guy I made a lot of calls for. This year, he broke the career record for saves. He was a freshman All-American last year, going to Cape Cod this summer. To me, that's what our program is all about.”
With BPA, Sandler says he will be on the road from June 12 and won’t return until Aug. 6, doing the summer circuit. As hectic of a schedule that may be, Sandler finds his springs equally busy due to the commitment of continuing the relationships of BPA alum.
“(The summer) that’s really busy traveling, but spring is really busy too, because we have all of our stuff going on with the younger guys, but I really try to get out and see my guys play.”
As successful as BPA is, where Sandler can take to college diamonds around the country or see former players selected in the first round of the draft, it happened by chance that the organization is what it is. When Sandler’s days as a player were over, he thought baseball was behind him.
“When I got done playing, I had to go back to school for a year to finish my degree. Went back to school, finished and got a business degree, I was like ok, my time with baseball is over. I put everything I had into it since I was four years old, got a degree and now go get a real job.
“One of my friends from college that I played with, he was doing lessons, starting a team, and I wasn't going to get involved but he asked if I could just help with tryouts. I went out to tryouts and after two hours I was hooked. I like kids, I love baseball and it was just like "wow", I wasn't expecting to like it.”
That wow moment was when Sandler realized the impact he could have on kids and the lifelong relationships that could be formed.
“I'm not a Major League baseball player, but I feel really blessed with the life I have. A lot of it is because of the game of baseball has been a big part of my life and taught me a lot of things about how to be successful in a lot of areas in my life. I just want to pass that on. I think the best parts are the relationships with the kids.”
With BPA producing top draft prospects and having players commit to schools like Mississippi State, TCU, UCLA, USC and Vanderbilt, there’s no doubt BPA is a desired program and could field more teams. But to be true to their goal, for Sandler to continue to have the lifelong relationships, remaining a tight-knit organization is the top priority.
“We're growing, and we're trying to not grow too fast,” Sandler said. “I don't want a program where I don't know a kid's name if I see him on the field, or don't know what their strength and weaknesses are. If a college coach calls me about a player that's in our program, I don't know what to tell him or don't know who the person really is. You don't want to grow so fast that you start losing touch with the players.”
Southern California may be chock full of talent, but BPA knows its best advantage is its closeness at home.