While every young baseball player can't be a Tippy Martinez, he can learn to develop the habits and work ethic that enabled Martinez to be one of the best at his craft.
The ex-Baltimore Orioles relief pitcher and current Towson State assistant baseball coach has been working with youngsters age 8 to 16 this week at the Tippy Martinez Baseball School.
The weeklong school took on an eager class of 56 young county players at the 10th Avenue baseball facility in Brooklyn Park for the second consecutive year.
Ex-minor league player and major league coach Charlie Bree works with Martinez. Bree was a defensive coordinator and outfield coach for the Orioles from 1978 to 1982, and in 1984 and 1985 he served as a pitching and hitting instructor for the Milwaukee Brewers.
With a blend of humor and toughness, Martinez and Bree, along with Oriole scout Gary Kendall, ex-Towson State player Jason Martinez and Brooklyn Park Youth Athletic Association coach Dean Albany, stress the fundamentals of the game, hoping to give the campers a sound base to build upon.
"I see a need to teach the kids the proper way to play the game, especially the older kids. They mimic what they see ballplayers do on television, and they seem to copy all of their bad habits," said Martinez, whose big-league career started with the Orioles in 1975 and ended with the Minnesota Twins in 1988.
"I think the kids in the 8- to 10-year-old group have an advantage on the older guys. They haven't been watching as much TV, so you don't have to try and break them out of those bad habits."
Bree said, "If it were up to me, I wouldn't let these kids watch major league baseball, I'd just pull the plug on it. This is the toughest game to play, and in order to learn how to play the game the right way, you need discipline and solid fundamentals."
Martinez added, "I think there's a noticeable difference between the young ballplayers in this country and in countries like Taiwan. They are so much more disciplined, while over here, we're much more relaxed.
"We can only help them while they're here. It's up to their fathers or whoever to keep the kid interested once they go home. They have to help build on the things that they learn here."
The school, which runs daily from 8:30 a.m. to 2:45 p.m., implements every phase of the game into its curriculum, putting an emphasis into constant movement and quality workouts.
Players spend their mornings throwing, hitting, pitching and base running at stations set up for each skill. They spend about a half-hour working intensely at each station.
In the afternoon, the players break up into three groups and participate in scrimmages, where they get to play at several positions.
"We structure it so the kids won't have time to think. We realize that their attention spans may wonder, especially the young kids, so we eliminate that by keeping them moving constantly," said Bree.
"The reason why we call this a school and not a camp is because we stress the teaching aspect. You also have to push them a little, and I have no qualms about pushing them. I don't think most kids are pushed to their limit."
Said Martinez, "Of course, all of the kids want to play games. But I tell them that they won't learn anything unless they create good work habits, and you create those habits by working on the different skills. But we do incorporate fun into the instruction. If you drill them all day long, they won't go 100 percent."
Many students take the lessons learned out to the ball field later in the day, applying them to game situations.
Jeremy Roberts, a 16-year-old from Pasadena who pitches and plays third for the Greater Glen Burnie Patriots Mickey Mantle League team, doesn't mind a couple of long days of hardball.
"We don't start our games until the evenings, so we have plenty of time to rest," said Roberts, a member of the Chesapeake High junior varsity team this past season.
"I really like the school because they really care about the kids. And they can teach you the inside stuff because of their pro experience."
Roberts' opinion of the school echoed Bree's comments after yesterday's workout in the sweltering 90-plus-degree heat.
"I think a lot of the kids are starting to realize that they've never received this kind of knowledge before," Bree said.
"They were kind of raw during the first couple of days, and then all of a sudden, they realize that the pointers that we're giving them actually work. I've seen some improvement in a lot of the kids since we started Monday."