Walbeck Baseball Academy—A
If you are the parent of a
high school or perhaps middle school-aged ballplayer, and you’re looking to provide your son
with the prototypical travel ball experience, there are several good options
If, however, along with
baseball fundamentals you want your son to learn such lessons as “It’s okay to fail—failure is a
part of the game,” and “control the controllables,” then maybe the Walbeck Baseball Academy
(WBA) is your best option.
After meeting with the
WBA’s two founders Matt Walbeck, former major league player and minor league manager, and
partner Glen Gross, patent attorney and organizational guru, one wonders if they didn’t spend a
summer at the Esalen Institute or some other bastion of esoterica.
Matt Walbeck and Glen Gross, partners in Walbeck Baseball Academy
(Photo Courtesy of Walbeck Baseball Academy)
That’s because their approach to teaching the fundamentals of baseball offers an integrated,
positive—almost “holistic”—alternative to the standard fare.
Walbeck, who played parts
of 11 seasons in the majors with five different clubs (see Sidebar), says he and his staff of
six instructors evaluate each young man who comes to them like a sculptor imagines the final
product when staring at a block of marble. “We actually see the player performing (to) his best
before he’s even gotten there.” Their mission is to unlock that player’s potential over time.
Although they share many of
the same techniques others teach, it’s this over-arching philosophy that sets the Walbeck
Baseball Academy apart from others. “We’re building
a college-prep academy, getting kids into college, and it’s education based,” Walbeck stresses. His
partner Gross adds that they’ve set out a “worthy goal” of “removing the veil of ignorance with
regard to how (preparing the young man for college recruitment) all
At WBA, students learn the
fundamentals of hitting, fielding and throwing, while also learning about building confidence,
developing sound study habits and ultimately “achieving their goals within
Erin Griffin, mother of
12-year-old Ryan, has been sending her son to Matt personally and the Academy for several
years. She calls Walbeck “an extraordinary mentor,
instructor, teacher” and adds that her son “comes out of his lesson, always, with more
confidence, more perseverance, more as just a person.”
The Walbeck Baseball
Academy offers various levels of instruction and team play. It all starts with the College Prep
Program, where they divide players into three 18-and-under teams, depending on age and skill
level. The first level is designed to transition from travel ball into college prep, while the
upper levels are about “exposing the player to (college) recruiters.”
Those teams play a summer schedule after the high school season has ended.
As part of its services,
the WBA collaborates with SportsForceonline.com in showcasing the player’s baseball abilities
online. College recruiters, Walbeck notes, rely heavily now on the web to evaluate hundreds and
thousands of college prospects across the nation.
“We've packaged things to make it really easy for families, so they're not running around panicking
about what to do. We're slowing the game down for them,” Walbeck says, using a phrase normally
associated with on-field performance.
In addition Walbeck Baseball Academy also fields teams for middle schoolers aged 13-14, which feeds
into the upper division program. That schedule runs from January to summer.
“We allow them to develop,” says Gross. “Once the roster is set, they're on that team and they're
not looking over their shoulder,” in fear of someone coming in and taking their spot. More
importantly, “They're allowed to make mistakes and develop as a team. And whether the team does
poorly or well, they need to work together and figure that out.”
Earlier this month, the college prep teams headed south for a travel team tournament, and went to
Anaheim Stadium to watch an Angels ballgame. Last year, Gross took the middle-school teams to
Cooperstown to play and tour the National Baseball Hall of Fame museum.
Gross notes that although WBA fields teams that play against other travel squads in competitive
tournaments, students are not obligated to play competitively. If a student simply wishes to hone
one or more of his skills, that’s available as well. It’s as simple as going to the Walbeck Baseball Academy web site, registering and
selecting classes from their calendar.
The Gross-Walbeck partnership is an interesting one.
Gross graduated from Penn State University with an engineering degree. He came west to study law
and graduated from McGeorge School of Law in Sacramento in 1996. He decided to stay in the
community and eventually opened a law practice focusing on patents and trademarks.
Around 2000 Gross began coaching youth ball, and when Walbeck’s oldest son Luke (now a 15-year-old
sophomore at Jesuit) joined the team, Glen and Matt became acquainted. In time, Glen took his sons
Carson and Drew to Walbeck, who was keeping up his coaching chops in the
Glen was pleasantly
surprised by Walbeck’s philosophy, which showed the student “It’s okay to make a mistake. It’s
okay to swing and miss. It’s alright to fail.” Ultimately, Walbeck focused on “building
confidence, solid relationships and getting better grades.”
In Gross, Walbeck found someone inquisitive and smart who found a way to extract qualities from the
former pro in a positive way. When Matt was asked to produce his second instructional video for
Championship Productions on “How to Train in Close Quarters,” he turned to Gross for assistance in
building his set. And the collaboration gave birth to lifelong partnership.
But not before Walbeck endured a personal setback.
As detailed in our 2011 Spotlight profile, after managing
seven minor leagues seasons—and winning Manager of the Year four times in that span—Walbeck was
fired mid-season from the Single-A Rome Braves.
“Kind of shook me up, a
little bit,” he admits now. “But it was a blessing, to be able to spend more time with my wife
and three kids. There was no bitterness at all on my behalf. I still love major league, minor
In time, Walbeck returned to offering one-on-one instruction. One of those he helped was Andrew
Susac, a top catching prospect at Jesuit High. Susac, a second-round draft pick by the Giants in
2011, says of his former mentor “He’s an energetic guy, very
hands on, which I like. He’s one of those guys that shows you (how it’s done), plus he’s in great
shape,” says the catcher for the Giants’ Triple-A Fresno Grizzlies. I really like the way he
teaches the game.”
Andrew’s dad agrees.
“(Walbeck is a) Phenomenal guy. Helped Andrew a lot,” says Nick Susac, who along with his
brother John closely oversaw Andrew’s baseball development.
lessons began to take off, Walbeck reached out to former minor leaguer Ken Clawson (Johnson
High), who was seeking a similar baseball gig. They taught together for a while. In time,
Walbeck noticed that pupils who went on to play on travel teams and came back for more lessons
were saying their travel coaches offered differing instruction, causing conflict in the student
athlete. “Instead of fighting the process,” says Matt, “I decided it was time to start a team.”
At the suggestion of mutual friend Tom Lininger, Managing Partner of the Marysville Gold Sox
summer ball team, Walbeck reached out to Glen Gross. In time, they formed Walbeck Baseball
Academy (Lininger, himself an attorney who has represented numerous high school, collegiate and
professional ballplayers, is now the WBA’s Director of the College Prep Program).
One of the
mantras heard around the Folsom Sports Complex where the Academy is based is “control the
controllables.” It’s a phrase Walbeck and his staff use to describe things that their students
are personally responsible for, can control and do something about. In some cases, a young
athlete is trying to “do too much,” often times to please an authority figure: his father, a
coach or even teammates. Gross says the Academy tries to instill in each of their students the
idea that “
I can only do the best that I can do that's within my control.”
student athletes incorporate this philosophy athletically, it carries over into the classroom as
Gross relates a
story about a 12-year-old enrolled in the Academy who was having difficulty with his teacher.
immediate response was to go in and talk to the teacher. “’Mom, we don't have to go talk to the
teacher,’” the boy explained. “’All I can do is my best and hopefully over time that will slowly
change her perception of me,’” Gross recalls the parent telling him. “And the mom was almost in
tears, right. Isn't that cool?”
In fall 2003, Clay Sigg, a UC Davis Hall of Famer from the 1970s, took his son Anthony to Walbeck
for hitting instruction right after his playing career had ended. Sigg had befriended Walbeck back
when the 19-year-old was recovering from his knee injury and they stayed in contact over the years.
Sigg’s son Anthony—then a Granite Bay High junior—was Walbeck’s first “for hire” student, the real
estate executive claims. “Matt was an exceptional
hitting instructor from the start. He taught with credibility and passion as a lifelong student of
the game,” Sigg wrote in an email. “I believe he brought out the best in Anthony by both physical
and psychological means. He used practical drills to develop his focus, mindset, hitting plan and
Matt Walbeck shows Sebastin Babin how to throw a "circle change"
during one-on-one instruction at the Walbeck Baseball Academy.
“Matt is a true baseball man who is completely committed to the game and really enjoys the process
of bringing his students to a new level,” concluded Sigg, who established an extensive network of
baseball people in the greater Sacramento area.
In less than two years, the Walbeck Baseball Academy has burgeoned, providing services to more than
100 student athletes and their parents.
In addition to
baseball training, they are affiliated with Results Physical Therapy in Rancho Cordova, which
provides strength and agility performance training, along with evaluating elbow, shoulder and
knee ailments, should a WBA athlete need medical advice.
branching off into the area of providing advance preparation for the SAT test. A service parents
are grateful to have available to them. “W
e have a lot of sessions where we counsel parents,” offers Gross, who can appreciate such
things, as he and his wife are raising five children, including Carson and Drew who both
participate in the Walbeck Baseball Academy.
“We’re helping them move along from taking their eye off the result, and focusing on what their son
can control. And understanding that as the (boy’s) biggest supporter and fan…(they shouldn’t be)
worried about whether he gets two or three hits or a multi-hit game. That helps the relationship
now and it makes it easier so the player can flourish.”
Take your eye off the results? Sounds counter-intuitive
in baseball. But then you remember you’re at the Walbeck Baseball Academy, where it’s not about the
results, but more about the process.
Walbeck says the end result is to build confidence so that when the student athlete drives home
with their mom or dad “they feel good. And I believe that if you feel good first, good things
happen. And baseball provides that environment more than any other sport.
“And if that helps their life, then that's awesome.”
~ ~ ~
Walbeck Academy is holding tryouts for their College Prep Summer Team on May 10th and May
18th. For more info: WBA
College Prep Summer Team Tryouts