Great, Brian. Well, let’s just jump right into it. How did you fall in love with the game of baseball?
Yeah, I mean, I’m sure just like many of the baseball people out there, I mean, I started playing at a young age. My dad was out coaching me, so definitely started to enjoy playing, I think the game of baseball. But I would honestly say that I’m not really sure if I was truly in love with it when I was growing up. I think it probably wasn’t until around my sophomore year of college when I ended up obviously got recruited and got to play for what is now a Hall of Fame coach in Sam Riggleman, and I really started to see more the nuances in the game of baseball from a different perspective, I think. And so got to really watch him build relationships with players on and off the field. I got to just understand the strategy. I got really just a little bit more in depth into the entire framework of baseball, and I think that’s truly when I started realizing I love this game and I love being a part of it. And I think that’s when I realized that that’s what I wanted to do outside of college and for my future. So yeah, that’s pretty much when I think it all happened.
Awesome. Well, how about, you talked about college getting to play for a Hall of fame coach. Can you dive in a little bit more into your past, into the game and
Brought you to where you are current owner of Keynes Great Lakes?
Yeah, absolutely. Yeah, so I ended up going to Bethel College, which was an NAI school in Mishawaka. Got to play there with an All-American pitcher and outside of when I graduated, unfortunately, didn’t have a whole lot of opportunities baseball wise, so decided, well, I think I’m going to give back. And I got into coaching and so ended up going and coaching my first year with my alma mater and had a great opportunity to go there and just kind of start my coaching career and building some relationships and had a couple of players get drafted as I was working with them and was only able to do that one year because right away I got an opportunity where I thought I wanted to kind of expand into the high school realm and be kind of my own coach, my own head coach. And so ended up going into head coaching at the high school level for about four years before reverting back to the college level where I got a head coaching college job.
I got to go over to Holy Cross College, which is right outside the University of Notre Dame and start their program, which was in the NAIA and did that for five years before the financial crisis hit us and they realized that they weren’t going to be able to continue to fund the program. And so Indiana University South Bend was in the process of starting a program, which was an affiliate of iu. So I got called by their athletic director and got an opportunity to start the baseball program, take some of my guys from Holy Cross over to there and did that for a couple years before realizing I wanted to spend some time with my son who was kind of coming up and getting into the game a little bit more and decided to go back into the high school realm and take a little pressure off me from being a head coach and just being an assistant where I could just kind show up and coach and not have to worry about all the logistical stuff and got that opportunity to spend more time with my son and going through that realm.
That’s awesome. Well, what are some of the biggest differences then between coaching at the college level and coaching at the high school slash youth level that you see?
Yeah, I mean obviously the college level mean, especially at the N AI level, pretty much it was a one man show, right? I mean, you were doing everything. You were out recruiting, you were out making all the phone calls, especially at the NA level, I was at the smaller level. So really a lot of the responsibility fell on myself, whereas at the high school level, I don’t necessarily, I think that the teaching and the development was a little bit more in depth there. You’re really taking a kid that sometimes in some regards walks in as a freshman and may have never played the game before, but maybe has some athleticism and you’re like, wow, I think I can turn this kid into something in four years if he’s committed to it. And so I think you get a little bit more of that personal relationship with some of that opportunity when you’re really taking a kid and developing ’em.
And then at the college level, you were really trying to recruit kids that could come in and play right away, get on the field, and although you would be developing ’em along the way, you were really kind of getting them prepared more for what was going to be after college. So being a good husband, a good father, and so on and so forth. So both levels are awesome. I loved all of it, but definitely I would say I love the high school level for sure because of just that one-on-one attention I get with all my guys to develop ’em.
Yeah, that’s a really good point. I think a lot of parents and families as they go through the recruiting process and are looking at colleges, I think some of the biggest feedback I’ve gotten, Brian, is that a lot of the best learning opportunities were when they were young. When you get to college coaches, whether it’s at the NIA level junior college, division three, two, all the way up to the top of the game, division one S-E-C-A-C-C PAC 12, they get paid to win and they’re going to come up there and their job is to win baseball games. And that’s not to say that they don’t develop, there’s a lot of great development that goes out there, but it does kind of put a light on the importance of your development as a player and your skillset in your younger years, right, in your 12, 13, 14, all the way
And making sure that you’re preparing yourself as well as you can to be able to compete at that level. So let’s talk about transition a little bit then into your program now, Kane’s Midwest, and tell me how it started, how you guys got to where you are today.
Yeah, so we started in 2015, or I’m sorry, 2005. We were actually the MICA Scrappers, and that was kind of where we started. It was really, we had a group of freshmen that came into a high school program that was looking for a little bit more. And so at that time, summer baseball was kind of dying down at the high school levels as far as kids starting to compete and do the stuff that I used to do when I grew up, which was playing like 30, 40 high school baseball games with my high school team. So just in conversation decided, Hey, let’s give this a shot. Travel ball was really starting to kick off around that time. And so we put a team together of 15 and 16 year old kids and kind of threw ’em out into the wolves and just said, Hey, let’s go play some baseball.
And started traveling to Ohio and stuff like that and just got our butts kicked. We just didn’t realize what we were really getting ourselves into. But that following year, we ended up going from one high school team to three years later we advanced into the youth level and got from 12 years on up. And then by year four we were really down into the eighth row level and really starting to see that transition starting to grow as travel ball was kind, evolving, I guess I would say. And so that led us for about 15 years or so with the scrappers organization, and then Jay Hunley and I started talking who I knew Jay, just from coaching at the college level. And Jay and I started talking about maybe what that next step might look like for us as we were starting to look at had we reached our plateau of where we thought we could take our kids to.
And yeah, we came up with that regional idea of within the Keynes Great Lakes being an affiliate within the Keynes organization and what they could offer us. And obviously from a brand loyalty standpoint, I mean we put a lot into into the Scrappers name and just our brand, and we had a lot of kids go on to college, but when you saw what the Canes were doing from a national standpoint and a regional standpoint, it just gave our families so much more than what we could really offer them. And so in 2022, we decided, yeah, you know what? Let’s do this and let’s rebrand and let’s join forces and see if we can make something even greater than what we already have and use those resources to really advance the level of competition that we’re providing to our kids as well as what we’re trying to put on the field and give them extra opportunities outside of the Keynes organization into college.
Absolutely. And I think a microcosm, obviously the Keynes are doing a great job. I think one thing that I’ve been really excited to see is doing different interviews like this with even just the Keynes Midwest guys and what a great group of people that Jay’s been able to assemble, really. And then you kind of take that on the national level, even blow it up bigger, what the diamond allegiances is trying to do and bring together people like you, Brian, that really care about the future of the game and care about these kids and families. So when you look at your program now, obviously Keynes Great Lakes, what would be one word that you would use to encapsulate your program? And then I think most importantly for me is how do you try to bear that out and show that as a leader on a daily basis?
Yeah, I think it’s interesting. I think we had this conversation as we were making the transition of something that we thought we could kind of put our finger on an everyday basis. And so we kind of use it more as an acronym a little bit, but it’s grit and each letter stands for something a little bit different for us from an organizational standpoint. And so G stands for the grind. What is it going to take each and every day? What’s it going to take for us as coaches, as instructors? What’s it going to take for our players? That grind is real, right? It’s not easy. This is not an easy sport by any means. So that’s the first R is relationship. How do we really grow in basically working with and teaching and developing these kids on an everyday basis, but also how do we really grow these relationships with our families?
I mean, I think the culture makes such a big impact on everything that we do. And then when you look at the I integrity, I believe firmly that everything we do revolves around integrity. So I think we have to be trustworthy. I think parents have to trust us, players have to trust us. I think in the game, I think we have to be respected in some regards, and you gain respect by having that trustworthiness. And then the T stands for transparency. I really believe that the more transparent you are, the better it is, especially in, again, the evolution of where travel ball is at costs are going up. Things are just crazy. I believe our players, our families, should all know everything that’s going on and how we can really bring that full circle for them. It makes all the difference in the world. So grit is our word for sure.
Best answer so far. Really good. I love it. And I love the two things that stand out to me is relationships first of all, right? And one thing that’s said a lot, but I really believe it is players, families, they don’t care until they know that you care. And being able to establish that relationship is so, so important, and it’s so refreshing to hear that from people that are out there with kids with families on a daily basis, that those are important. And then like you said, transparency and talking about where your true calling is. Obviously all of us, you played NAI baseball, I had the opportunity to play division one baseball and then division two baseball. I’ve had the opportunity to coach big leaguers and SEC players of the year, but we all have to understand that a majority of the kids, 95% of travel baseball players are going to a level other than division one.
And what are we doing as a company for you, but also as an industry to really make sure that we’re not losing sight of those type of kids and not to say there’s nothing, there is a place for the best of the best. They need to play each other and be elevated on that national level, like the Kings National team. But there’s a lot of other kids that need help that need true transparency and help to get to the next level. So it’s amazing, obviously to hear you say that. Well, with all those things that you guys are doing with all the growth that you’ve had, obviously it’s not a one man show. It’s impossible to be able to pull that off with one person. So I know there’s probably a lot of people, but who are some people that really, really help drive what you guys do on a daily basis?
Yeah, I would say obviously for me, I’m president director of baseball operations. I mean, yes, I do kind of oversee the vast majority of everything from tryouts and engaging our teams, picking our teams, helping our coaches make the right decisions. But four or five years ago, we added an assistant director, Zachary Foster, moved here from California, played college baseball at the junior college level as well as the NAI level. Zach is really influential in us because he’s kind of our strength guy. He’s our assistant director and he’s kind of our really development coordinator. He’s the guy that we’re really kind of building through to make sure we’re putting the right plans in place so that he’s able to kind implement that in a full scope both to our youth level players as well as our high school level players. And he does a fantastic job, and we’re just so thankful to have Zach around.
He’s young, he’s ambitious, he’s really kind of eager in the game, so he’s kind of in that era of really wanting to do anything and everything. So he’s awesome. David Gardner’s, our pitching guy. David played at Michigan State, got drafted by the Chicago C, played all the way up to AAA out of baseball now. But he really kind of is our guru within that pitching side of things, developmental side of things, just making sure our pitchers are doing what they’re supposed to do. We follow really, really, really strict guidelines with our guys. Last thing I ever want to do is have one of my players, one of my parents come to me and say, Hey, you caused this injury happened because of this organization or because of you guys. So our coaches are pretty put on strict reins, I guess I would say. And then we have several other people that are behind the scenes.
We have a really strong advisory panel that we kind of shoot ideas off of a lot of ’em or just past parents that have had kids that have played in the organization that I really truly respect that maybe don’t necessarily want to be in the limelight of anything, but they’re willing to kind of listen and give ideas and be completely candid, if that makes absolute no sense whatsoever of what I’m thinking or, yeah, absolutely. That makes perfect sense. And so there’s about five to six of those individuals that I constantly shoot information off of as well as our board of directors that we have that obviously kind of, okay, now we’ve done all this, now can we get it approved and can we move this forward to make sure that this, we’re doing this in the right manner. So yeah, there’s a lot of people, but the three forefront people are me, Zachary, and David.
Great. Love it. So I’m a parent and I’m searching around in your area for a travel ball team, and I stumbled across you guys. What do I get by being a part of your organization? Do I practice? Do I just show up and play games showcasing more the mentality? What do I get if I come and play for you?
Yeah, I think you know what, in today’s world, I think it’s probably the most important question a family should ask, right? So obviously number one, the Keynes brand. So we’re providing that. One of the reasons why we made that transition was the Keynes brand, and we can go in way depth in regards to that conversation, but I think when you start looking at it from an in-out position of what is really the Keynes Great Lakes going to offer me as a player from day one to the last day, we’ve got three indoor facilities that we utilize. We acquired two other organizations last year when we became the Keynes acquired their organization completely, which included their indoor facilities. So now my players have three indoor facilities that they can utilize on an every night basis. One of them is 24 7 membership. So they have free reign to be able to come in and out of our facility at any given time and lift weights, run on the treadmill, do arm care, hit and cages, whatever.
We offer an eight week developmental program for our youth group as well as in our high school during the fall season. So again, they’re going to get a good program of built fundamentals as we roll into our winter months, usually between October starting around the middle of October, we’re going to run about a 10 to 12 week developmental program, more geared towards basically arm care, arm development, understanding what all that means, and then really how to utilize that in your daily routine. And then a hitting really going back from ground one all the way up. And we’re going to do that in a two day period throughout those 10 to 12 weeks. And then our high school guys really, which I think is where the rubber starts to meet the road as we start putting together a true high school formatted program. So strength training, even though we know that there’s a lot of high school programs that are out there starting to do that more and more now, we’re really putting them in a functional program.
So we’re showing them exactly kind of a dietary program that they should be taking part in. We’re showing them exactly how they should be doing certain things from a weightlifting standpoint. Obviously now with the Diamond Allegiance program, we’re going to be rolling into the curve application, which is going to give us some excitement there to really be able to enhance that program that we’re already doing. And then something we’re in the process of doing is obviously this year we’ll be rolling out now some of our extended stuff, which is scholarship programs and things of that nature that we’re offering to some of our guys that have been with us for at least a minimum of four to five years. And really just showing the true value and return on investment that you get for being a part of the Keynes Great Lakes. So you take all of that and then say, now we’re going to go play the best, and we’re going to compete in the right tournaments.
We’re going to find the right events. We’re not just playing in something that has four or five teams. We’re playing and looking to raise our bar. We want you to understand truly what it means to have to get better, and why do we have to get better? Why do I have to train this way? Why do I have to put this time and energy in? And it’s really just because of that level of competition we want to do. We’re not going to travel all over the world. That’s just not something we’re going to do. But we’re really going to be a Midwestern group and our top teams at the high school level will definitely use the Georgias and the perfect games and those types of things. And that from that elite level is really getting us there. But the rest of it is we’re still looking to seek out the best competition.
Absolutely. Love it. Really good answer. And I think it’s really important in this crazy travel ball world to find an organization that is holistic, that is going to be able to help you develop your skills so that when you get into the game, you actually have some skills to showcase. Right? So really, really important. So you’ve been doing this travel ball stuff since 2005, so you’ve seen the landscape shift and go all over the place. If you could go back and tell yourself whether that be 18 years ago now, something that you’ve learned over the last 18 years, what would it be?
Yeah, I mean, honestly, I think it’s probably just kind of slow down and actually enjoy the actual moments. They’re are just so many things that happen in a year to year basis even. I mean, obviously a day-to-day basis, but year to year when you sit back, and I think early on, I can remember we would host our tryouts in late August, and so your season ended in July, you held your tryouts in August. You got a little bit of an opportunity to really reflect and look back and say, wow, that was kind of cool. We had a great year. We had some great teams, we had some great players, man, we had some historic moments. I just don’t think we get that too much anymore because now you’re trying out, and seasons are going on, teams are playing and you’re running tryouts on the Monday, Tuesdays, and Wednesdays of an actual season still in the month of July, and it is just moving up so much faster. So I just don’t think that there’s the opportunity to sometimes sit back and reflect and really enjoy some of the opportunities, some of the moments, some of the players, some of the accolades that our teams have achieved. And that would probably be the one area where I think as I’ve grown and every year now, I’m really trying to take that deep breath and really try to enjoy our players, the successes that they’re having, the guys that are signing at the college level, whereas before, I don’t think we really got an opportunity to do that.
Yeah, I love it. Just take a second and enjoy what’s around you and be thankful
The guys and the people that have been put in your life. I think that’s great.
So obviously just transitioning in 2022 to the Canyons, great Lakes, where do you see yourself in five years? What would be two or three goals for the Keynes Great Lakes in the next five years?
Yeah, I mean, I think sustainability, right? I mean, as far as what we’re looking to do, obviously again, acquiring two new organizations this year, bringing those families into our current family. I think over the next couple of years, I think we’ve got a couple of things on the horizon. New indoor facility, a larger indoor facility. I think that’s on the horizon, which will be a tremendous boost from one of our facilities that we have to go into 350,000 square foot facility with 12 cages and two fields. I mean that I think monstrosity right there. That’s going to be awesome. And obviously I think we still have some growth that we can do. We can really maintain that of what we’re doing. Currently, we’ve got 22 teams today. I think our perfect world is to be somewhere in the ballparks of 25 to 26 teams. So we’ve got a little bit of growth opportunity.
I think on top of that, I think it’s really taking our 14, 15 and on up age groups and really challenging them, maybe just a touch more and really pushing the envelope with them a touch more just because of where the game of baseball is at and where it’s going. And with obviously everything on the division one side and the transfer portal stuff. I mean, the commitment for us to take those elite teams in our word, the gold level teams and really raise that bar of what we expect out of those kids is going to push the envelope a little bit on some, do they really want to commit that much? And I think that’s what we have to do, just to try to keep up with some of that from a Midwestern level. I mean, just again, playing in where we’re playing at to make sure that we’re getting the right kids year over year at that level, but then also still offering our secondary and third teams still great opportunities, still great showcase ability, but I think that goal is where we, in the next five years, hopefully we will have that pretty well figured out and we should be able to hopefully maintain that for years to come.
Great. So if you could, this is one of my favorite questions and I’ll kind of put ’em together. First of all, what excites you about the travel ball system today? You’ve been in it for 15 years, you’re obviously energized. You’ve got this new brand you’re wearing. So what excites you and essentially boils down to what is your, why do you get up and do this every day and put so much time into it? And then on the flip side of that, if there’s one thing that you could change, if you were the commissioner of the travel baseball world and you could just wave your magic wand and change one thing, what would that be? So again, what’s why, what gets you excited about where we currently are? And if you could change one thing, what would that be?
Yeah, I mean, I think our why is pretty simple. I mean, I think the why is the relationships that we get every single day to be a part of these players and these families and lives, get to see the smiles on their faces, get to see them have fun, give back each and every day. I mean, I think sometimes we take for granted how blessed we truly are to be around the game to be able to teach. I know, again, when I was growing up, we just didn’t have the three indoor facilities, the turf fields. I can remember hitting off of a tee in my garage in northern Indiana into a mattress just so I got my swings in. Now these guys are getting 24 7 memberships and all that. So when I get to actually see a kid walking our facility, take reps with his dad, his coach, smile, walk out high five, see him in a game when I get to go and watch him, or we get to watch these kids play in the successes or when they sign that college scholarship.
I mean, I think that in itself is absolutely what excites me every single day to show up to, to our facilities, show up to our games, and watch our players. And I think obviously, again, we take a lot of responsibility within our families. I mean, because we are true mentors to these individuals both on and off the field. And so taking that and using that and then allowing our families to see what we’re willing to provide and be vulnerable to make sure that our families understand we’re all in is awesome. To be able to, again, just the amount of friends that I’ve gained out of this is immense. Then I take that to the next level, which is coaches and people like you and Jay and all these people that you just continue to surround yourself with. If you’re at the A, B, CA conventions and the coaching community and the knowledge you gain.
I mean, every day I’m learning something new about what is out there, what we can do, what we can offer. So I think that’s the why. I mean, when I sit back and I just think about all the friendships I gained and the people that I’ve impacted and our coaches have impacted, it’s awesome. If I was to change one thing, I think I’d have to say the cost. I mean, if travel baseball, I mean, it’s asinine sometimes to me when I see an event one year cost X and it go up by 30% in one year, and there’s really no difference. It’s not like they did anything majorly changing to their facility. They’re just increasing the price because that’s what everybody else is doing, which ultimately then impacts us, right? Because now we have to raise our prices. We have to try to explain it to our families.
I can understand just normal inflation and things of that nature. I get that. But as we all know, it never goes this way. It’s always, let’s see how much higher we can take it. And I think ultimately, at the end of the day, I think we’ve lost definitely several generations of kids that probably would’ve played this game that are now going on and playing other sports just because they can’t afford it, their parents can’t afford it. They’ve got multi kids that they can’t and get involved because one, they can’t put that financial burden on their family. And so I think if there was a way that we could really truly control the cost, it would help us immensely from the travel ball side of things.