This indoor baseball school in Paradise wants to groom the next major leaguers
If you build it, they will come, is duo's optimistic philosophy
While there haven't been many from Newfoundland and Labrador to make a run at the major leagues, Premier Sports Academy in Paradise hopes to buck the trend.
The new indoor baseball training grounds is swinging open its doors with two goals in mind: letting kids practise year-round and making it fun.
In a place where rain, wind and even snow can shorten a traditional summer season — and make winter practice impossible — the facility's founders think a sheltered space could put Avalon players on even footing with baseball lovers in warmer climes.
"It's always something I've thought about, providing an opportunity to kids in Newfoundland," said owner and founder Ryan Sweeney.
"The game [here] is missing something. It needs that next step to help it progress."
The large warehouse in Paradise's industrial area has been converted into a modern hub, complete with turfed batting cages, a weight area, an ice tub and locker rooms.
"Community" is a term that comes up often when speaking with Sweeney and his right-hand man, Noah Anderson, who is the business's director of operations — both of whom have the experience of serious games notched on their belts, having played high-level, competitive baseball throughout Ontario and the United States.
Sweeney left Mount Pearl at 15 to pursue competitive baseball. His parents pulled up their roots so he and his brother could chase that dream. Anderson, also of Mount Pearl, followed suit some years later, playing four years at Brock University as a pitcher, coupled with a coaching stint in Niagara Falls.
Now the duo hope to pass on their knowledge of the game and provide a space for kids to train, irrespective of the snow, sleet or slush outside — an opportunity neither had at the youth level in Newfoundland.
Paradise Minor Baseball was the first organization to step up to the plate, even before the business was running at 100 per cent.
"We're ready to go with our training for kids. We're having our all-star tryouts at the facility this year, and as soon as our all star teams are picked we're going to be practising in here until the season starts," said Paradise Minor Baseball president and coach Craig Walker.
"So it gives us a big head start to our baseball season, which generally in Newfoundland … doesn't start until July 1 because of the weather. So we'll be practising in here from April until July."
The Paradise program, according to Walker, is booming, growing from around 190 kids five years ago to more than 500 in last summer's program.
Walker said Premier Sports Academy isn't at all like what minor baseball organizations around the Avalon are accustomed to. In most instances teams train in gymnasiums during the winter, on hardwood floors instead of sand and grass.
Practices were run by the league's volunteers, whereas at Premier Sports Academy the staff, like Sweeney and Anderson, will help out.
"These guys are trained, and this is where we had to bring our kids for sure," Walker said.
Sweeney said facilities such as his are commonplace throughout the rest of Canada, and Newfoundland and Labrador baseball is falling behind without proper and continued training.
Both he and Anderson agree it would be nice to see others come on board to build their own practice centres in places such as Corner Brook and Grand Falls-Windsor so kids from across the island can put their best foot forward in learning the fundamentals of baseball and gain the knowledge from experienced ball players.
While hockey and soccer have dominated the local sports sphere for generations, Anderson hopes the culture will begin to change.
"It's going to be tough but at the end of the day we're sticking with our vision," he said.
"Other sports in this province have had it for years and years. Why not baseball and why not now?"