Crowd checks out new bigger Bobby Valentine sports center in Springdale
Published 6:06 pm, Sunday, April 2, 2017
STAMFORD — As the resounding thwacks of bats against balls and shouts ricocheted around him, 10-year-old Cooper Matik of Wilton said he was looking for some professional pointers on being a better backstop for his Little League team.
Cooper and his dad Scott Matik were among the dozens of people who showed up Sunday for the grand opening of the recently expanded Bobby Valentine’s Sports Academy, a new 35,500 square foot sports complex on Largo Drive that includes a full size artificial turf field, batting cages where local high school teams have begun practicing over the past few weeks.
The Matiks were there checking out the new academy to potentially get Cooper some batting or fielding instruction. “I’d like to get better at popping up and throwing guys out,” said Cooper, who plays catcher and was wearing his Wilton Little League uniform. “I can usually throw the entire distance, but I’d like to be more accurate.”
Visitors enjoyed free eats, including a glove and mitt shaped cake, fried chicken,buffalo wings and pizza and chatted with Valentine, a former Major League manager of the Boston Red Sox and New York Mets, and his partner and academy lead instructor Frank Ramppen.
Both men took part in coaching impromptu baseball fielding drills on the academy’s new turf field.
“Frank had been running the facility very successfully since we came back from Japan and we realized that we were growing,” Valentine said as he oversaw an infield drill with kids. “We were looking for a space for four years that would be something to serve the community and and be a place where we could teach sports and sportsmanship in a great fashion.”
Since March 1, high school baseball teams from New Canaan, Trinity, Westhill, Darien and other high schools have rented space at the facility for indoor practice or drills, said Ramppen, lead instructor at the academy since 2009.
On the new artificial turf field, Ramppen, a Stamford native and former Minnesota Twins minor leaguer, demonstrated the academy’s new programmable FungoMan ball-feeding machine that can be adjusted to shoot grounders with precision during infield practice.
The expansive new field is hoped to be a major draw for youth baseball, lacrosse and soccer players to work out on a field with the proper dimensions in all seasons and provide year round instruction from former college and minor league baseball players to players of all skill levels, Ramppen said.
“This facility gives you a chance to train at a higher level year round but, beyond that, we have 15,000 square feet of open versatile space,” Ramppen said. “Everyone is hoping these days to have their kids do the best they can at whatever level of sports they take part in.”
Tim Giuliano, 26, a Stamford High School graduate who pitched for the Black Knights during their 18-2 season in 2008, and Anthony Conte, a 2007 graduate of Trinity Catholic High School and long-time instructor at the academy, oversaw a game of small children playing bean bag toss.
The two men coach the academy’s Fury program, which includes youths 9 through 16 who typically play on the team in addition to participating in school or Little League programs.
“It is night and day being in this new facility and having the full size turf field and more cages allows us to train in ways we couldn’t previously,” Giuliano said.
George Psichopaidis, a Stamford High School freshman, said he works out once or twice a week during the high school season and take private pitching instruction from Giuliano through the academy. The 15-year-old, who also plays outfield, said Giuliano’s background as a pitcher at Southern Connecticut State University gives him a deeper background in pitching mechanics than some of Psichopaidis’ previous coaches.
“The coaches and instructors definitely have a different level of knowledge which is important when you are trying to learn the right way to do things,” said Psichopaidis who plays on the high school’s freshman squad.