New Jersey Baseball Feature Story
New Game in Town
Central Jersey Sports (CJS) is the real deal. Jim Bumstead and Ben Fonseca have teamed up to create what will soon become one of the premier baseball training academies in New Jersey.
Just ask the 80-plus players, parents, and coaches who attended CJS’ first ever professional hitting clinic on Sunday, January 16, 2011. Barely six weeks into its new location at 2 Ilene Court in Hillsborough, New Jersey, the newest baseball training facility in Central Jersey sponsored the newest hitting coach for the New York Yankees in a dual-session, four-hour training for local players.
Long: NY Yankees Cage Rat
A testament to perseverance, Kevin Long spent 18 seasons playing and coaching in the minor leagues until receiving his promotion in 2007 to the big show. Among other accomplishments, Long has improved the batting styles of some of the most prominent hitters in the pro game today. None other than Alex Rodriguez, Nick Swisher, Derek Jeter, Mark Teixeira, Brett Gardner, Jorge Posada, and Robinson Canoe have benefitted from Long’s tutelage.
As chronicled in Wikipedia, his 2007 Bronx Bombers ranked first in runs (968), hits (1,656), home runs (201), RBIs (929), team batting average (.290), slugging percentage (.463), on-base percentage (.366) and total bases (2,649). In fact, the 968 runs were the most in franchise history since the 1937 Yankees plated 979. As if those accomplishments did not underscore his expertise in the art of hitting, his first-year offense boasted American League MVP Alex Rodriguez and three Silver Sluggers in Jeter, Posada, and Rodriguez, not to mention four of the American League's top-15 batting averages.
A-Rod and the Kevin Long Method
After a down year offensively in 2008, Long's Yankees again led the league in offense during the 2009 season, when they also won their 27th world title, and again led the American League in runs as of August 1, 2010. Is it any wonder that, following the 2010 season, the Yankees signed Long to a repeat three-year contract?
Kevin’s instructional clinic represented a real-life version of his unique video entitled “Cage Rat.” Both the 7-12 age group and the 13-18 age group heard stories about professional players who take “200 swings per day, but only 25 off live pitching.” As incredible as that sounded, Coach Long emphasized that his Yankees spend more time every day practicing the fundamentals of hitting with a tee and underhanded, soft toss, versus overhand, live pitching.
Local trainers who assisted Long during the clinic included Joe Burke, 1st baseman for the Independent League Somerset Patriots, Delbarton HS-Princeton U grad and Cleveland Indians free agent, Dan DeGeorge, and veteran coach and lead trainer for CJS, Ben Fonseca.
Kevin Long’s “Cage Rat” winning method involves hitting off a T every day, hitting soft toss front flips, and constantly drilling the fundamentals of good hitting that he stresses. “Keep hitting simple,” Long asserts over and over to his wide-eyed, keenly attentive students, “and the rest of your body’s mechanics will take care of themselves.” Provided, of course, the body’s mechanics evolve from effective drill and practice.
Gripping the bat with the knuckles “in line” gets everyone started. Aficionados of the game might find it surprising to know how many young players – and apparently the coaches of their teams – do not know this basic tenet of good hitting. Adopting a stable batting stance at the plate represents another misunderstood concept, if young players learn it at all.
Long teaches players to assume a “bat-length stance” in the batter’s box. The spread of a hitter’s legs should approximate the length of the bat that the player uses. This ensures an even distribution of weight, thereby contributing to the relaxation necessary to react quickly to live pitching. In demonstrating these fundamentals, Long refers to Barry Bonds as having a “model batting stance.” The best hitting position forms a “square batting stance, with the feet-knees-hips-shoulders aligned.”
Square to the Ball
A Model Swing
from a Model Stance
Long’s explanation of the model hitting stance starts appropriately from the position of the feet and works up to the shoulders, because this coach of winners emphasizes strong legs. Interestingly, he de-emphasizes the importance of a forward “step” or stride into the ball. Instead, arriving in the optimal hitting position requires that the “back foot and back knee work together with the hips and the hands.” This affords the hitter with all the momentum and bat speed necessary to be successful at the plate. By contrast, striding into the pitch creates an imbalanced hitting position, which loses rather than increases power.
As attentive as his young players were throughout the half-day clinic, the spectator parents and coaches hung even more on every word, batting tip, and vignette that Long offered. Among them, Charles Quatrocchi, valued “the opportunity for instruction” that his 10 year-old son, Dino, received. Like most of the players in attendance, Dino plays on local travel teams, and his Dad believes that the training that a professional like Kevoin Long provides makes a young player’s “goals in baseball attainable.” Plus, he finds Central Jersey Sports’ Hillsborough location much more convenient to his Montgomery home than having to travel to Flemington or Bridgewater for professional instruction.
Jim Jackson, father of 10 year-old Brendan, echoed the satisfaction of knowing such high level training is available at CJS. Jackson drove from nearby Hopewell for Long’s clinic rather than travel to Flemington, where Coach Kevin had been the day before. Brendan, “a Nick Swisher fan,” enjoyed learning some hitting basics and how to pattern himself after the model swing that Long described.
Craig Hilliard shares the mantel of Dad and coach for his son Luke’s 10 year-old travel team, also in Hopewell, New Jersey. Coach Craig appreciated Kevin Long’s “emphasis on fundamentals, soft toss and practicing off the ‘T’ because that what good hitters do.” Taking his team to the various “suburban travel tournaments in Bucks County, PA,” Hilliard acknowledged Long’s point that playing baseball becomes more fun when players understand the mechanics of the game, especially when it comes to hitting.
Not to be outdone, Ann Pomeroy of Maine, observed the importance of her grandson, 9 year-old Jon Shovlin, learning “the best stance” when he takes his position in the batter’s box. Grandma Ann, a ballplayer of some renown herself in her day, likes “keeping Jon and his brother Joseph involved.” Jon pitches and plays shortstop, while older Joseph pitches for Montgomery High School and “is trying for a scholarship.”
All in all, CJS co-owners, Jim Bumstead and Ben Fonseca, had a banner day in their new facility. As Jim explains, “We have enjoyed great support from the community, and we already have four local fields where we can schedule games, clinics, and practices.” New Jersey Baseball has no doubt that Central Jersey Sports will set a new standard for personalized instruction that is unrivaled in the Hunterdon-Somerset-Mercer County area, and that this new game in town will stay and grow for many years to come.