“Potential is nothing without practice.”
That’s the motto at Miner League Baseball & Softball Academy in Pooler. The academy is named for its owner, Tony Miner, who played third base in the Cleveland Indians farm system in the late 1990s.
A native of Augusta, Maine, Miner moved to Savannah after sustaining a career-ending injury in his second year of minor league baseball ball with the Indians’ organization. Prior to his professional career, Miner played college ball at the University of Southern Maine.
Now 38, Miner is married to Stephanie and has two children and two stepchildren. He started his sports academy about four years ago in Savannah and moved the academy two years later to a larger, more modern facility in Pooler.
The academy is easy to get to, but it is a bit off the beaten path. It’s on U.S. 80 in Pooler on the backside of the Pooler Park West Shopping Center.
You can’t see it from the street, and because of certain property regulations, no signs are posted out front. It’s well worth the search. Though it’s called Miner League, it is a major league resource for baseball and softball players of all ages and skill levels.
It’s a year-round indoor facility with a number of programs in the fall and winter as well as during the regular season.
“We have a lot of pretty cool programs during the fall that a lot of people don’t even know about,” said Miner, who has an impressive list of credentials.
In addition to his time as a professional player, Miner was named the Sports Illustrated 25th Greatest Athlete of the Century from Maine. He was a two-time All-American at the University of Southern Maine and the 1997 New England Collegiate Baseball Association Player of the Year.
He was also three-time Division III first team All New England. He Coached at Savannah Country Day for two years as the hitting and infield coach. He also coached at Savannah State in 2006 and 2007. After that, he opened the academy as co-owner. Now he teaches an initiatives class on baseball and softball in the mornings at Savannah Christian five days a week.
Asked about his clientele, Miner said they serve everybody, from age six to college level players.
“We pretty much do everything here,” he said. “You name, it we do it — baseball, softball and all ages.”
The academy offers a wide selection of services and activities for developing players, including camps, clinics, teams and more.
“We’re a teaching facility,” he said. “It’s more individually based.”
The emphasis is on proper mechanics, and the pricing is reasonable.
“Our rates are very affordable. If you look at the national averages, we’re 20 percent lower than anybody else,” Miner said.
Membership is not required, but the benefits make it the most reasonable way to get the most out of the facility and its offerings. Membership is $75 for six months. It entitles members to deep discounts on lesson packages and programs and open use of the facility.
The academy boasts four full batting cages, which can be retracted to open up the 7,200 square-feet facility for infield drills, including throwing from home to second at nearly major league distance.
“There are things you can do in here that you can’t do anywhere else because of the size of the facility,” Miner said.
The baseball pitching machines throw up to 95 mph and the softball machine up to 65 mph. Of course, speed is dictated by the age and skill level of the student.
The facility is fully turfed from wall to wall, with an inch-and-a half thick pad beneath.
“When the Savannah Christian High School team came in, we had 42 kids in here training at one time,” Miner said.
Batting cage areas are convertible into full bullpens.
“We had a Christmas Camp the first year we were open,” said Miner. “We had 40 or 50 little guys in here. We plan to do a Christmas camp again this year. The camp lasts three hours a day for three days and the cost is only $50.”
Miner has big plans for adding features such as a big projection screen TV for viewing game and training films. There’s also a special type of high-tech batting cage for baseball and softball, the details of which are being kept under wraps because the product has not been released to the public.
The academy also offers the G.A.P.S. (Great Approach — Productive Swing) Competitive Hitting League. It’s a team training/competition that gives players the opportunity to spend plenty of time at the plate learning the fundamentals of hitting while competing with other payers in their age group.
In the spring, they will begin team training for four different age groups — 10U (10 and under), 12U, 14U, and a high school team. Teams can affiliate with Miner League through a what amounts to a free team membership.
Miner League works with the team and its coaches to train the team. The players get discounts on the lessons, and they get to train at the facility. The school serves about 10 established local teams of various leagues and ages with team-based instruction.
“We’ve had some kids that trained here that went on to play college ball,” Miner said.
Let’s not forget girls’ softball.
“We’re trying to get more softball players in,” said Miner. “We have about 25 or 30 girls we do lessons with now, but we’re trying to gear more towards softball, too.”
The academy has six or seven softball teams that train there, one of which is the Savannah Christian girls softball team.
“We do some sponsored stuff as well,” Miner said. “We do some programs for underprivileged kids,” he said.
This is done in cooperation with the local Savannah nonprofit, Performance Initiatives, which is dedicated to helping others by using athletics and fitness. Businesses sponsor kids from the inner city to come to the academy for a six-week baseball or softball introduction program.
“It’s even for kids who wouldn’t normally play baseball. That’s what it’s about,” he said. “We’re just here to promote the game.”
Miner is planning a big campaign for Performance Initiatives after the first of the year.
“My goal is to raise $35,000-$40,000 from local business sponsors to promote baseball and softball throughout all of Savannah,” he said.
The funds raised would pay for many inner city youths to come to the academy and learn the fundamentals of the game.
“We’re more instruction based. We really want to train kids the right way,” he said. “Not every kid is going to go on to play college or professional baseball, but if we can make a difference in somebody’s life, it builds character and confidence. It’s going to help them in everything else they do. That’s always been our goal.”
The other instructors are:
• Emanuel Wheeler, the infield and hitting instructor, who coached at Savannah State for five years.
• Blake Miller is an assistant coach at Savannah State and serves as the pitching coach at Miner League Academy.
• Charrissa Suhr is the pitching coach for girls softball. Suhr is a former pitcher for Iowa State University.
“We’ve got some good instructors,” said Miner. “They work hard.”
Instructors must have either played or coached at the college level or higher. Miner is always looking for qualified instructors who are interested in working part time or seasonally with his students.
“We take pride in providing really good instruction,” he said. “That’s what we do. If I had had a place like this available to me when I was a kid, I would have never been at home!”
Miner League Baseball and Softball Academy
1018 HWY 80 | Pooler Park West | Building 300 | Pooler, GA 31322 | 912-330-0300
Tony Miner Tony@MinerLeagueAcademy.com