*Featured Credit: Tanya Mercado
Bronx, NY – It’s a part of New York that has the highest poverty rate and residents in the Bronx are seeking help thanks to the highest unemployment rate than any of the five boroughs.
Yet out of the darkness, there is a light that shines and gives hope for the present and the future. From a warehouse to a training facility, a future Derek Jeter or Mariano Rivera is tucked away in the industrial park area near Westchester Square on Seabury Avenue.
This is the Tony Melendez Baseball Training Academy.
The academy accepts children as young as three- years old, to young adults up to the age of 23. They come here to get valuable training with hopes of one day aspiring to play professional baseball. Boys are being taught how to hit the ball and there are areas set up for drills, strength training and conditioning exercises. Yes, even the littlest baseball player hopeful does some exercises. If you look a little deeper, there is another side to the academy and a perspective as to the main objective
Outside the office, where Tony Melendez and his wife Jessy sit by a desk and on a wide couch, there is a list of things people should do more of, such as “Do more than exist, live. Do more than hear, listen. Do more than consider, commit. Do more than forgive, forget.” Sure it’s great to play ball.
As shown on the list, there is more to life than playing America’s favorite pastime. What about life lessons? What about respect for others? What about school? These are all part of a bigger picture. Let’s be a little realistic, shall we? Not everybody can play ball professionally, but they can all play this game called life.
Tony Melendez was born and raised in the Fordham section of the Bronx. He played high school ball at DeWitt Clinton High School, known for producing some well known athletes. He then transferred to Theodore Roosevelt. After that, he played five years of professional ball in Puerto Rico.
“All of my learning experience was in Puerto Rico,” he says. Before he opened this academy, Melendez owned a gym in Manhattan where players could come and work out. “I trained baseball players in the gym and outside of the gym.”
So, why open a baseball academy? As he says, “We figured there was nothing here in the Bronx, in this area that anyone was doing for the kids. We’ve seen a lot of kids around that have talent, but they don’t have the drive or motivation.”
Those who attend learn and live by the philosophy that owner, trainer and head coach Melendez preaches. “God, family, education, career, all in that order. We make sure that the kids understand the fact that there’s life besides baseball,” he says.
Jessy has a set of rules that all have to follow when they are at the academy and at home. These are rules that should be applied everywhere from no cursing, to no sagging pants, to treating everyone with respect, no matter what the age.
The husband and wife team make it known, before baseball, homework comes first. “They must have a certain grade point average and we do require that they bring us their progress reports or report cards. I do check up on their Facebook pages and their Instagram pages because if they’re here, I feel that they’ve stepped in these doors for a reason and it’s our responsibility as the adults to make sure we keep them on the right track,” explains Jessy.
Players like 17-year-old Brandon Castillo appreciate this. The way he explains it, his game “got a lot better” thanks to “the discipline” that is taught by Melendez. “It’s pretty much like they affected my whole life in a different way. I have a whole different mindset on baseball, life in general.”
Just like so many others, school was not first. His love for baseball came ahead of school. It did not take long for him to realize that in order to play ball, you have to do good in school.
There is not one without the other. Castillo’s GPA went from a “C” average to a “B” average student. After taking his SAT’s earlier this month, he now dreams not just about playing collegiate ball, but studying sports management hopefully on a scholarship.
Castillo is not the only success story. At this academy, over 50 students who graduated from high school have left on scholarships to colleges. When it first opened seven years ago, Melendez said the percentage of honor students was three to five percent. Now, it is at a high 93 percent. He attributes it to their philosophy.
When asked what the greatest story out of this academy is, Melendez responded, “How we got it. How we got here from where we came from. How it was God’s choice to be here. The story behind how we are here now.”
This is one place that you don’t just get lessons on how to throw, or hit the ball, or run the bases. At the Tony Melendez Baseball Training Academy, a youngster will get something he or she cannot get at an overcrowded school. That one- on- one attention can be a lifestyle transformation leading to success.
Email Tanya Mercado: [email protected]