By Matt Betts
Canadian Baseball Network
Evolve with the times or risk getting left behind.
Pro Teach Baseball located in Etobicoke, Ont., at 25 Whitlam Avenue has taken the next step in development by introducing their High Performance program.
“High Performance is a program that coincides with the school year in which the athletes arrive for activities at Pro Teach at 9 a.m. and are done at 12,” Geoff McCallum, leader of the program said. “They are then bused to school and go to class in the afternoon.”
McCallum brings a wealth of playing and coaching experience to the Pro Teach facility and compliments Denny Berni, founder of Pro Teach Baseball. McCallum was born in London and played collegiately at Stetson University where he was under the tutelage of some great baseball minds. Pete Dunn guided the Hatters for 37 years and compiled a 1312-888-3 collegiate coaching record before retiring in 2016, Larry Jones, father of Atlanta Braves All-Star third basemen Chipper, Milwaukee Brewers pitching coach Derek Johnson and current Winthrop University head coach Tom Riginos were all brains that McCallum has had the luxury to pick.
After leaving Stetson, highlighted by a 48-16 senior season and a regional final loss to Georgia Tech, McCallum embarked on a professional career that led him to the Seattle Mariners and Florida Marlins minor league systems, the independent ranks, the senior national team on five occasions and four winters in Australia as a player/coach.
Spending from 9 a.m. until noon training under his guidance, it appears that something about being a student-athlete has to give. That isn't the case McCallum says.
“They are then bused to school and go to class in the afternoon,” he said. “The school condenses the curriculum so they get all the work that a regular student will get. So at 12 hours per week for roughly 40 weeks, that is 480 hours of baseball related work while everyone else is sitting in class, and they still get the same school work done.”
The connection between McCallum and Berni, a former first baseman and catcher in the Red Sox system from 1990-1992, was one that was made when McCallum’s playing days came to an end and he was looking for a job.
“When my career was over I was wondering what to do and I called a few baseball facilities for work,” he said. “Denny was the only one to call back.”
After a year of doing part-time instruction, McCallum decided it was time for a change.
“After about a year doing part time instruction for Denny I took a full-time job at a gym and starting training,” he said. “I was a full-time trainer for seven years.”
As fate would have it, McCallum and Berni reconnected.
“Denny called me out of the blue and told me he was able to extend the building enough to build a gym and wanted to know if I was up for being the strength coach at Pro Teach,” he said. “It was a perfect fit for me as I have a passion for both training and baseball, and I didn't hesitate to leave my other full time position. Now I've been training for longer than my pro career and I love it.”
With the high performance program being run through Pro Teach, it is open to anyone. The facility is home to the Etobicoke Rangers program so they have a lot of those players taking part but they also have players from other programs who are looking to up their game.
“The whole program is great,” he said. “For me the most important aspect is the physical preparation work that we do, a strong, balanced, flexible, fast body is the foundation for all sports including baseball.”
McCallum explains the approach in terms of a pyramid. A pyramid can only be as big as its base he says, making the foundation the key to success.
With the hopes and dreams of college scholarships and professional careers on the minds of the athletes involved, McCallum believes, although the program is young, that Pro Teach and the high performance program has the ability to help players achieve their goals.
“We are only in our second year, it will be many years until we see the fruits of our labour,” he said. “I am committed to doing this for the long run, and I believe that we have everything at Pro Teach to help athletes achieve their dream, no matter how big the dream is.”
The former Hatter believes players should start training young and hopefully make a connection with a coach to point them in the right direction.
“I met an Olympic Weightlifting coach when I was 33 (a little too late),” he said. “If you combine good training with a real passion for the sport you will be unstoppable.”
Finding that Olympic Weightlifting coach at 33 years old may have been a little late for his career but it has helped shape who he is. He now wants to be that inspiration for kids. Combining a passion with physical preparation.
“When I was young, I would throw the ball against the wall for hours, just because I loved it and thought it was fun, I didn't think I was practicing, but in fact that is exactly what I was doing,” he said. “What would have been better is if I did more strength exercises combined with my baseball skill work, and that is the message I'm trying to convey to the young athletes.”