Southern Utah is home to great baseball.

This is evident by the fact that four of the last five 3A state titles have come back to St. George. Don’t sleep on Enterprise, either, as the Wolves won the 2A title last year after falling in the championship game the year before.

But after the high school season is over, most players end up traveling all over the state – with some traveling out of state – to play club or legion baseball.

But seeing so many kids leave whether it was to keep their skills sharp, or just to keep playing the game that they loved, really bothered Dixie State pitching coach Michael Gargano.

“There were so many talented kids that would just leave, and one day I said to myself, ‘why aren’t we keeping them close to home and helping them get better,’” said the former Pine View head baseball coach. “And that’s where it all started.”

The Southwest Baseball Academy was born, and the growth of the program has skyrocketed.

“We went from having just one team to now having 13 teams and more than 100 kids,” said Gargano. “It’s been a bit crazy trying to keep up with the growth, but it’s fun crazy.”

The baseball academy, which is now in its second year, has 18 members on the staff with all of them having either collegiate, minor or major league experience.

“It’s a real good group of guys that have a lot of passion for the game, and that just want to give back to the community,” said Gargano.

One of his assistants is Justin Abbott, who played in the minor leagues for a number of years.

Abbott, oversees the day-to-day operations of the organization as well as parent meetings, scheduling tournaments, etc.

“Before I started with SBA, I was doing private pitching clinics,” said Abbott. “But it’s really been awesome to be a part of the SBA program and to be able to give instructions to so many kids that are looking to better their game.”

The goal of the baseball academy is not only to help players develop and advance their game, but to become better young men and people at the end of the day.

“We work a lot on the fundamentals, but most importantly, we want to turn these kids into outstanding young men,” added Gargano. “Not everyone is going to go pro and so we want them to go to college and to have successful careers so that they can give back to the community too.”

A big focus has been on community service.

Last month, players helped with Toys for Tots as well as Coins 4 Kids, which helps out families that are in need during the Christmas season.

As part of Coins for Kids, each one of the 13 teams got together and “adopted” a family and then went shopping for them. Not only did they shop till they dropped, but they also wrapped the presents too.

“What a sight to see,” Abbott said smiling as the youngsters started wrapping the presents before the start of practice. “That’s what it is all about.”

When Gargano was drafted by the St. Louis Cardinals in the 17th round, the right-handed pitcher will never forget what he was told.

“I was super excited to be drafted and was just a knucklehead at the time, but I remember the guys telling me that when I was done playing baseball, to make sure that I took the opportunity to give back,” he said.

And he’s doing just that.

Follow Justin Giles on Twitter @Justingiles_ or on Facebook at