Todd Donovan is one of those players that reminds you a bit of Lenny Dykstra, or the old-timers from…
At an obvious disadvantage to their southern and western counterparts, America's Game is looking to bring back baseball to the east. No longer will talented kids in the Connecticut area suffer from the lack of a place to play when the snow drifts hit.
"Our training facility, Andy Walker and his brother Pete Walker, who is a major league pitcher with the Toronto Blue Jays, have had this vision for years and finally felt as though they found a building and location to where the entire state of Connecticut can benefit from something we have been lacking forever," Todd Donovan, a minor leaguer in the San Diego Padres organization, said. "Where people can come down and train in the offseason like players from the south and the west do."
Look around the Majors and you will see the South, from Latin America to Florida, has an advantage. The same thing can be said for California and Texas. Look through the annals of the College World Series and you will have to traverse back to 1964 (Minnesota) to find the last team to win that didn't play in a predominately warm climate.
"Growing up in the northeast you can get away with being a one tool player," adds Donovan. "One tool in this area gets you to where you want to be. You get to college and it changes a little bit and you get to the professional level and you realize having something like this or a place like this really enhances or brings out some of the other tools or assets you can bring to the game to which you usually don't work on because you are outside shoveling snow."
The homegrown talent level from the south and west is above and beyond because the weather is oftentimes great all year long. It is no surprise that California produces more talent than any other state.
Then we take a look at the rare town: East Lyme, Connecticut.
"Our town of East Lyme is kind of funny," Donovan explains. "Pete Walker is from East Lyme and he is in the major leagues, John McDonald from East Lyme he is in the major leagues, Brook Fordyce from East Lyme, he is in the major leagues. We have three players from our hometown in the major leagues."
An east coast town with a population of 18,118. Not bad for the underdogs. The bet is you can't find many hometowns in Connecticut with the same kind of success.
"It is extremely rare," says Donovan. "And to add onto that, I'm from the same high school and in minor league baseball.
"We have a few other players in the area. Jeff Clark is with the San Francisco Giants. Scott Chasson is up and down in the majors with the Chicago Cubs. Rajai Davis is with the Pittsburgh Pirates.
"We have a lot of guys within this area, not just from East Lyme, that have been in minor league and major league baseball. We didn't have this stuff when we were growing up."
The ultimate goal for some will now be in reach. America's Game will be the edge that has been granted to them in their quest for success.
"When I look back in a few years," Donovan began, "and I am being optimistic here, when I am in the major leagues thinking that a place like America's Game is something that turned my career around immensely because unfortunately where I am from, I use spring training as – in physical shape I am ready to go but as far as baseball shape I use spring training to get into shape. I never had the capability of using an indoor machine or live pitcher or things that we have here at America's Game. This just gives us and other players in the area an opportunity to do the stuff that (the south and west) are doing. With the facility we have here, it is really second to none."
But it isn't just for the young men on the verge of stardom. It is so much more. America's Game is working on changing the perception that people in Connecticut have regarding baseball. The National pastime is having a reawakening of sorts.
"I think this going to be great for players," Donovan said. "Not only professionally, current major league players that we have now, but for kids growing up who always had that dream of being in major league baseball that in the past – its Patriots season or its Giants season around here, it is not baseball season. I think we are changing that in the minds of a lot of players and a lot of parents to where baseball will be a year round sport, at least down here in southeastern Connecticut."
Once word gets out, that will spread to further reaches. New Jersey and New York are just several short hops away with Northern New Jersey and New York City just a two hour drive from the facility.
And has America's Game helped Todd Donovan's game?
"No doubt about it. This is the first offseason where I haven't either gone back to school or been in a cast. This is the first offseason where I can dedicate myself to baseball. I am here working at America's Game, we call it Connecticut's premiere indoor baseball and softball hitting facility."
Donovan is working on becoming proficient as a left-handed batter for the first time in his career. With his speed, he can use that to be a step closer to first. Without America's Game, he would have a tough time finding a place to work on those skills.
More about America's Game from Todd Donovan:
"We have four major instructors over here. Andy and Pete Walker, the co-owers, Roger LaFrancois, who is a minor league hitting instructor for the New York Mets and myself.
"We run camps here for boys and girls, ages 3-18. Those are structured camps. We welcome anybody, any age. We do facility rentals for our machines. We offer memberships, day clinics, week clinics, month clinics, softball, and baseball…
"We are actually starting our first annual world baseball coaches' convention. Mohegan Sun actually caught wind of what we were doing and thought it was great. They are actually going to sponsor the entire event.
"We are having a three day clinic, January 8th, 9th and 10th. We have a lot of major league baseball players, ex-players, coaches, college coaches…
"Having America's game here and keeping baseball on people's minds throughout the winter kind of sparked up some different events, different ideas and if I am not coaching somewhere else, I will be here for the rest of my life."
For more information on America's Game, visit their website at http://www.americasgame.com/
Denis Savage can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org