Bobby Johnson was just looking for a place where his son, Akili, could work on his baseball skills indoors over the winter. He scanned around Kanawha County, and that turned out to be a fruitless endeavor.
Johnson felt there should be a place where Kanawha County kids can work on their skills year round. And, as it often does, necessity became the mother of invention.
The fledgling Trinity Baseball Academy recently opened on Bigley Avenue in Charleston, and Johnson wants the facility to become more than just a place in the community where baseball players can go to hone their skills. He wants it to become a part of the community.
Take, for example, the Trinity CAP, the facility’s Community Ambassador Program. If kids can verify that they’ve done something to better their community — something as small as helping someone carry home their groceries — Trinity will reward that good deed with a free hour in the batting cage or in a private individual lesson. Already, a group of local students is planning to volunteer at Crossroads Shelter for Thanksgiving.
“Our belief is ‘better kids, better communities,’ ” Johnson said. “If you’re making the community better, we want to reward you for it.”
Johnson also has partnered with Major League Baseball’s RBI (Reviving Baseball in Inner Cities) program to increase interest and participation in baseball and softball among underserved youth.
The facility itself is growing. Right now, it features a 36-by-75-foot turfed area that can house three batting cages. Soon, it will have a seperate 60-by-80-foot turfed area where players can work on fielding and hold conditioning workouts.
The lessons already have started. Trinity is in the middle of its three-session November hitting camp. The instructors are no strangers to those who follow Kanawha Valley baseball. The head instructor is Steve Crosier, a former Kanawha Valley prep baseball coach who has spent 10 years as a professional coach, five in the Tampa Bay Rays organization and five in the New York Mets organization.
The other instructors are a trio of minor leaguers with local ties. Two are from Kanawha County — Charleston natives Korey Dunbar and Corey Bird. Dunbar, a former Nitro star who played baseball at North Carolina, was a 39th-round pick of the Los Angeles Dodgers and spent this past season with the Greensboro Grasshoppers of the South Atlantic League. Bird starred at Herbert Hoover and Marshall, was a seventh-round pick of the Miami Marlins and spent last season with the Batavia Muck Dogs of the New York-Penn League.
Bird’s Thundering Herd teammate, Aaron Bossi, is another instructor. Following his Marshall career, Bossi signed with the New York Yankees organization and spent the season with the Gulf Coast League Yankees.
Trinity also boasts on its full-time staff another former Nitro star, pitcher J.R. Bradley, who was a second-round pick of the Arizona Diamondbacks in the 2010 MLB draft. Johnson said it’s important to tap into the deep well of baseball talent around the Kanawha Valley and show young local players what is possible.
“I think the influence that it has on the younger kids is tremendous,” Johnson said. “What it says is, ‘yeah, I can.’ You don’t have to look at the other guys who are playing in the pros.
“It gives these kids hope,” he added. “They’re role models to these kids and give these kids hope.”
Trinity Academy soon will make its way into softball instruction as well. The academy’s Facebook page is the best way to keep up with its updates. Most importantly, Johnson said, he wants the organization to reinforce good behaviors, not just at the plate or on the mound, but at home and in players’ neighborhoods.
“We want to teach them responsibility, respect and discipline,” he said. “If they can carry that on in life, we’ve accomplished what we want to accomplish at Trinity.”