PORT RICHEY — Specialized training is a growing trend in youth athletics. With the opening of former Major League Baseball player Julius Matos' training facility, baseball players in west Pasco have a new home for focused workouts.
Matos, 37, is a former hitting coach with the minor-league affiliates of the New York Yankees whose 13-year playing career included stints in San Diego and Kansas City. After an altercation in the Trenton Thunder dugout with the team's manager, Matos was suspended and went his own way at the end of the 2011 season. These days, he is coaching the Ridgewood High School baseball team and training young players in the Port Richey area.
"Working with kids is something that I've been doing for several years now and it's something that I enjoy doing because it comes with a lot of satisfaction," Matos said. "But it wasn't until about a year and a half ago that I started to think about making it a business and getting some travel ball teams together. I started looking into this area at what was around for this type of training and I think that there is an opportunity for me here."
He and his wife, April, in love with the area several years ago when Matos came to Clearwater for training with the Blue Jays. They later made Pasco their home, saying it felt like a good place to raise their son, Julyan, 2.
At the helm at Ridgewood High
Julius Matos Baseball Clinics have been going on for years before Matos opened the Port Richey JMBC facility. In some of his clinics he came across players from Ridgewood and was made aware of the head coach opening. The pay — $2,000 a year — wasn't the lure. He was drawn by the attitude of the kids he saw in the fields.
"I wasn't training them personally but I would see them come out to the ballpark on their own and throw batting practice to each other so I started doing that for them after I was done with my lessons," Matos said. "The guys expressed concern that they may not be able to play this year because they hadn't found a coach, so I spoke with the athletic director and everything fell into place."
Opening up JMBC just in time for the new year, Matos has joined with John Krupp's Lil Sluggers franchise, a national chain of organizations dedicated to teaching the fundamentals of baseball to kids ages 2 to 5. By doing so, the pair have created a partnership that could blossom into a full-blown baseball academy with a family atmosphere where kids of all ages could come to learn the game of baseball.
"That's the goal," Krupp said. "We want to get to the point where we have a few AAU teams that we run out of here. For me, it's made perfect sense to partner with Julius because even though I've coached for 20 years I never want to stop learning. He's played professionally and I think I can learn a lot from him as can the kids that come up through Lil Sluggers."
Playing 21st century brand of baseball
Years ago, when guys like Matos and Krupp were growing up, the only outlet for kids to become better baseball players was to go out to the park and play. Kids in 2012 don't play as they used to, however, and specialized training like what Matos offers has become a popular outlet for young athletes looking to improve their game.
"I see a huge difference in the amount of training that kids are seeking," Matos said. "When I was a kid you couldn't wait to get out of school, grab a bat and play down at the corner. Without that, I think that some of the dedication gets lost but at the same time kids are aware that they want to get better. As a result they are seeking training like this, but not all training is necessarily good or administered the right way. We want to give people someone who they can click with and someone who understands the player's strength and what they're trying to achieve."
Wayne Griggs' son, Garrett, has been practicing his hitting with Matos for the last two months, and according to Griggs, a coach himself, the benefits are plain to see.
"I was looking for a hitting and fielding instructor because even though I'm a coach, kids always listen to someone else more than their parents," Griggs said. "We've been with Julius for about two months and he's phenomenal because there are a lot of ex-pros out there doing lessons and even though they have all the knowledge in the world they can't relay it. Julius is a guy that the kids seem to gravitate to and he puts the techniques he teaches into a language they understand."