CHARLOTTE – Grand Slam USA was the first baseball training center when it opened in Charlotte during the 1990s, and little has changed with its successful business model since.
“We’ve been doing this for 26 years,” owner Pete Snell said. “Our business model has always been: for every high school player, there are 60 Little Leaguers who don’t know how to throw and catch the ball as well as they should. For those kids to get to the high school level, they are going to have to work very hard because baseball is not an easy thing, but we’re here to help them improve.”
Camp sessions improve skills
Much like the brick-and-mortar store and indoor batting cages, Grand Slam USA has developed a great system for its summer camps and kept that formula mostly the same in the years since.
They offer four sessions of camps, which are all outdoors and designed for boys ages 5-12. These run from June 25-29 ( at Indian Trail Rec Association), July 9-13 (at Park Sharon Rec Association), July 23-27 (Indian Trail) and Aug. 6-10 (Park Sharon) and each is from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. and costs $225 per camper.
Each session will have skills and drills, which are broken down in positional groupings of infielders, outfielders, pitchers and catchers, in the morning followed by a break for lunch. After lunch, campers work on baserunning drills and then put all of that knowledge into a hour-and-a-half live scrimmage.
“We get a lot of kids who are more rec league players and not necessarily travel ball players,” Snell said. “This camp gives them the combination of doing all of the skills and drills in an environment where they can have fun and then they can apply it in the game situation later in the day.”
On Fridays, the sessions change to where instead of skills and drills there is a skills competition that is the highlight of the week for many campers.
“Fridays are a little different, but in a fun way,” Snell said. “We have like a mini Olympics where all of the skills they’ve learned Monday through Thursday – the throwing, the hitting, the catching, the bunting, the fielding and the baserunning – is put into a skills competition that is all done by points. The winning team gets a pat on the back, but it’s good for them and they seem to enjoy it.”
At the end of the week, there is a Player of the Week who receives a wooden bat. Each team will give out a hustle award and a most improved that receive the recognition plus small prizes.
Expert instructors lead the way
Grand Slam USA offers an assortment of instructors that campers will rarely get anywhere else.
The teachers range from volunteer high school players to high school coaches such as Rick Sambrotto (Butler), Jared Barwick (Sun Valley) and Brick Smith (Providence Day/Wake Forest/Seattle Mariners).
Former professional players Mike Jerzembeck (New York Yankees), Jeff Barkley (Cleveland Indians), Travis Thompson (Cincinnati Reds) and Andy Tomberlin (played for five Major League teams and is the Charlotte Knights hitting coach).
“Those guys love talking to the kids,” Snell said. “For Andy it’s different because his players have to do what he says, but talking to the kids is fun for him, so he’ll come out. Jeff is working at Park Sharon and we’re trying to get him to come out for a day, but we’ve been blessed to have so many good instructors come through here.”
Daily operations still
At any given time during the week, there are people getting in some extra swings at the six indoor batting cages that range from slow to fast baseball and softball settings.
The facility also offers group instruction as well as one-on-one individual instruction for baseball and fastpitch softball players.
While the instructional settings are quite popular, Snell said the cages are almost always in use.
“We get people who come in an hour before their batting cage starts who want to get in some extra swings,” he said. “For $10 they can get their extra cuts and they are in and they’re out in no time. That’s what’s great about these cages because they simulate live pitching and you can be in and out in 15 or 20 minutes.”
Pro shop unlike no other for equipment
The Grand Slam USA pro shop is full of aluminum and wood bats, gloves, baseball and softball pants and other items that can’t be found anywhere else in Charlotte.
“Nobody – not Academy and not Dick’s or anyone else – carries the inventory that we carry,” Snell said. “Those are huge stores, but they carry every sport where we are just baseball and softball 365 days a year. We have the largest wood bat selection in the city for the high school and college players who are playing in wood bat leagues over the summer. We also carry very nice medium to high-end gloves that start at $50 and go up to $360 for the top-notch equipment. We have an embroidery shop upstairs where we can do uniforms, booster club apparel like backpacks, tank tops and hats. It’s a one-stop shop where everything is done here and it’s in and out.”