2008-02-06 / Local News

Sandlot Academy brings indoor training to Northtowns

by JESSICA L. FINCH Associate Editor

Art Lauer, owner of Sandlot Academy of WNY, demonstrates how to use the ProBatter at the new indoor baseball facility on Campbell Boulevard, near North French Road. Photo by Joe Eberle Purchase color photos at www.BeeNews.com Art Lauer, owner of Sandlot Academy of WNY, demonstrates how to use the ProBatter at the new indoor baseball facility on Campbell Boulevard, near North French Road. Photo by Joe Eberle Purchase color photos at www.BeeNews.com Spring training has a whole new meaning in Western New York.

Where winter lasts longer than most places in the country, baseball and softball players have less time to practice, but now Art Lauer has opened an indoor training facility with state-of-the-art pitching and batting machines.

The Sandlot Academy of WNY, at 635 Campbell Blvd., near North French Road in Getzville, offers ball players - some as young as 6 - use of the facility and the equipment to better their skills.

Several teams, including the Canisius baseball team, have already started using the facility.

The facility has three netted areas to allow for pitching, batting and catching drills, and one of the bays has a K-Zone virtual pitching trainer, one of the most modern training systems available.

With settings for softball and baseball, pitchers aim at the bulletproof screen, covered with sensors that pinpoint - within an inch - where the ball hits. The device rates the success of different pitches and registers speeds.

It takes training to the next level, according to general manager Jeff Robertson, a former pitcher for the University at Buffalo, who also pitched for Erie Community College during the Junior World Series, when the team placed fourth in the coun- try.

"It provides pertinent information for a pitching coach," he said.

Speaking from experience, Robertson said pitchers deal with a lot of injuries. The K-Zone can also detect fatigue and at what number pitch the player starts to tire. For example, a pitcher may begin to falter after 85 pitches. The coach can use that information in a game and know when to substitute.

The Sandlot also has the Pro- Batter, featuring the PX2 system, which combines Major League-quality pitching with life-size images of pitchers throwing realistic pitches, all integrated through computer controls.

The batters can practice on different pitches, speeds and location of the ball, programmed by the system.

The two areas are surrounded by netting and set on artificial turf.

Lauer started the idea for Sandlot Academy after serving in the Army for more than 20 years. He said he wanted to do something different and bought a license a year ago.

"I decided to start small and give it a chance to grow. The Northtowns doesn't have this type of training facility," he said, adding that he hopes to open a facility large enough to play a game.

Robertson also had a similar goal of opening an indoor facility, and the two formed the business together.

They have already seen success in the players using the training machines. Their philosophy is, "The only type of practice is perfect practice."

Robertson said the most important part of the game is mechanics, and at Sandlot Academy players can work on them.

There are 32 Sandlot facilities in the country, with the next closest in Corning. Next year, the Getzville location is expected to become franchised.

It is also seeking to become recognized as a Major League Baseball Players Association facility.

The facility will also be offering golf training seminars by golf pro Tony Tatro.

A Kan-Jam league is also forming, and teams of two can sign up. This year's Kan-Jam World Championship will be held later in the year in North Tonawanda. Teams can qualify through the Sandlot Academy's league.

Call for information on golf and Kan-Jam events.

The Sandlot Academy also promotes CHAMPS - Coach, Honor, Attitude, Mentor and Pride. Its philosophy is based on encouraging and rewarding positive behavior for each student in his or her game, at home and at school.

"The positive characteristics taught at the Sandlot Baseball and Softball Academies are qualities that help our students succeed in not only being better ball players, but also better participants at home and at school," its Web site stated.

For information on the facility, visit www. sandlotwny.com or call 548-6120.

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