The ancient William Shakespeare classical saying, “What’s in a name?” can definitively be connected to one baseball training facility located in Monmouth County, New Jersey. For CK’s Baseball4U Training Facility, their name says it all.
CK’s Baseball4U has been training and guiding aspiring baseball and softball athletes of both genders and of all ages in central New Jersey throughout the last decade. The age range that CK’s deals with is from 3-high school, while also hosting adults throughout the course of the year.
Owner and Managing Director Craig Koppelman first founded CK’s in January 2002 in Morganville, N.J. Koppelman, a University of Rhode Island graduate who also had a professional tryout with the Montreal Expos in June 1999, had worked as a Health and Physical Education teacher while coaching high school baseball, but claimed it was unsatisfying.
“The kids I was coaching just didn’t have it,” Koppelman said. “That’s why I went a different route and a different aspect. They weren’t listening and they weren’t willing to learn to get better.”
As Koppelman was working as a freelance trainer trying to build up his reputation, 2004 was when the wheels really started rolling. A quick, two years later in November 2006, CK’s doors officially opened and later expanded and moved to its current location in June 2010.
Upon initial entrance, potential trainees and parents will be amazed at how in-depth the indoor facility truly is. CK’s is fully-equipped and encompasses countless facility features that include a major league size infield, nine retractable batting cages, a conference and video room, 11 total different training areas, a small outfield that allows for games, pitching mounds, and a pro shop that carries baseball items from famous brands such as Louisville Slugger, Minus 3, and 3N2. The second floor of the facility houses a state-of-the-art weight room, a two-lane, 35-yard sprinting track, and Lisa’s Learning Center, which is a center for children ages 3-10 to learn and train to become well-rounded individuals as they grow older and face challenges in their future. The learning center is owned and run by Koppelman’s wife, Lisa, who is certified in general education and also in Special Education and English as a Second Language.
“When I first created this business with my wife and my father, one of our biggest things was to create a family atmosphere,” Koppelman said. “We wanted everyone to know each other and have our customers feel better coming in and trusting us working with their children. Customer interaction is extremely important.”
The trainers at CK’s are all professional adults and have a history of some type of baseball in their background. Having this baseball history allows the trainers to garner knowledge and allows them to relate to the children who train there, which according to Koppelman, “is more important than knowledge itself.” Different trainers specialize in the various skills of baseball that include hitting and infield instruction, pitching instruction, catching instruction, fielding instruction, outfield instruction, and speed and agility instruction. By covering all of these different areas of the game, trainees are introduced into every aspect of baseball, molding them into balanced individuals on the diamond.
Each day at the training facility is diverse, as Koppelman and his trainers engage in different activities and classes for the children. In the morning, the “Little Sluggers”, ages 4-5, are usually up at-bat first, learning the basics on how to play the game. By mid-afternoon, the older kids start to pile in alongside the youth travel teams, where group and individual classes take place. This is where all skills are being honed in an organized structure, namely speed and agility, hitting, and pitching. For the youth travel teams, these group classes provide an outlet to refine their baseball skills while still continuing to play outside of the facility. CK’s takes pride in instructor interaction and wants its trainees to learn accordingly.
“The instructor ratio is 6:1 or less, which is very manageable,” Koppelman said. “Every class is dynamic and the kids are all different. For example, if there are 10 kids in one class, then there will be two instructors teaching the class.”
Transitioning from the younger kids to the older ones and vice-versa is not an easy task, as the knowledge and skill level of the game of baseball is clearly altered. However, what makes CK’s so unique and admirable is the commendable relationship that Koppelman preaches to his staff to have with their trainees.
“It is not an easy task going from a 4 year-old one hour and then a 16 year-old the next,” Koppelman said. “That’s why it is so important for my guys and me to relate to the children. You have to be mentally prepared to handle these types of situations. People forget that children are like sponges. If you relate and talk to them, then they will get better at baseball, listen, and learn. You’d be surprised by how much these younger kids attain and absorb information.”
In addition to the training and skill classes, CK’s has also hosted indoor holiday tournaments and regularly conducts an Adult Arena softball league at night for men. This consists of teams with 10 players with one game a week for six weeks (excluding playoff games and the championship game). CK’s provides the schedule, the field space, and an umpire as well. Also associated with the training facility are summer camps for children that focus on basic skills and college showcases, which according to Koppelman, “we’ve done about six or seven showcases since we’ve opened, with the last two being with The College of William and Mary.”
Youth travel teams are also a large component of the facility as there are currently three travel teams at the moment, with a fourth hoping to get started in the fall of 2012. CK’s Cardinals, as they are called, are all managed and coached by assistants at the training facility and run mainly in the summer and fall seasons.
As if all that wasn’t enough, CK’s also throws parties for the kids who train there, making sure these children have some fun off the field as well, while still maintaining to be baseball related. Some of the activities that the kids enjoy include radar gun testing to see how fast they can throw, target and accuracy training, batting cages for hitting, and of course, home run derby to see who can hit the most home runs and brag about it the next day.
It is safe to say that CK’s Baseball4U Training Facility is not your typical batting cages where baseball players usually go to practice their hitting skills. Instead, they offer much more than what the eye can see. Koppelman and his staff are much more concerned with relating and connecting to his trainees than making them professional athletes.
“I want these kids to gain confidence and maintain a positive attitude so they can enjoy the game more,” Koppelman said. “I want to show them how dedication and hard work pays off. I am not looking to produce professionals here. I am looking to produce quality individuals who will improve their baseball skills and make them play longer through our training.”
Koppelman emphatically believes that this is what he was meant to do and envisions himself doing this “forever.” Says Koppelman, “I have a career with my guys here. We are looking to build an outdoor facility with more baseball features. This is a single sport facility. We dedicate ourselves; it’s what we know.”
*Photo Credit: Courtesy CK’s Photo Library