By Ryan Kaczmarski
As little league baseball becomes more and more competitive each year, the ACE Baseball program has provided expert instruction with youth camps, coaching certification classes and now summer leagues to promote the development of youth baseball around the local area and across the country.
The program’s director, Neal Packanik (a former scout with the Milwaukee Brewers organization), has been involved in youth baseball and softball training since 2000, and along with his partner Alex Eckelman (who played up to AAA in the Minor Leagues with the St. Louis Cardinals and Houston Astros organizations), he has made it his mission in life to share his love and knowledge of the sport.
“Alex and I were working camps together in late 2006 and we started talking during our breaks – we had met earlier (during their playing days at Ohio University for Packanik and Ohio State for Eckelman) – and had similar ideas on the state of youth baseball,” Packanik said. “We just started to brainstorm some ideas and statistics – across the country, kids stop playing the game of baseball at a 75 percent rate after the age of 12 – and for a sport that has given both of us so much, and has taken us to so many different places, meeting so many different great people, we were thrown back by that (stat) and we thought we could take a little different approach and try to change those statistics.”
The ACE program started with one idea back in 2007, to get youth coaches more instruction with their online certification program, therefore developing better players.
“We weren’t naive enough to think we were going to make a big difference, just the two of us, so we said, ‘Let’s reach out to the masses,’” Packanik said. “We then created a convenient resource for youth coaches. We have an online curriculum/certification/membership, where coaches can go on there, and go through the process of getting certified through us. This could be for a parent, a youth coach or just anybody who wants more information on how to (correctly) teach the sport of baseball.”
ACE started to grow from there, listening to youth league directors and coaches around the area tell them what their needs and wants were for youth instruction and what baseball was lacking, so Packanik started to add other hands-on programs to the ACE portfolio.
“We started to add youth, position-specific camps where kids can get a little more focused on the positions they really want to play,” he said. “We do general camps, that are comprised of everything that is included in the game of baseball. We also do a lot of one on one lessons.”
The program has now included a team training style guide they call PIP, or partners in practice.
“It’s a program that where we coordinate the first few practices for a youth baseball organization and orchestrate them with the coaches,” Packanik explained. “It’s like a hybrid of a coaches workshop and a kids camp, where we’re there actually working with the kids, and we’re also showing these coaches how to run a practice, and the finer details to that.”
The newest addition to the ACE program is their youth development leagues, held at the Diamond Indoor Sports complex in Westlake, including leagues for ages U6-U7, and a travel prep league for U8 kids.
“We’ve created separate leagues (from the community summer leagues), so we won’t necessarily compete with the other leagues … but we play during the day, during the week,” Packanik said.
ACE has worked with many local programs, including the Kids on the Rise Learning Center, Rocky River Bucs travel, Rocky River Little League, Fairview Park Recreation, Fairview Sports Association and Lakewood Recreation Department leagues.
The leagues’ three-week spring training starts May 16, followed by a progressive season for the U6-7 teams and an indoor-outdoor season for the travel prep league, both followed by a postseason tournament (scheduled to be held at Lutheran West High School’s new artificial-surfaced baseball diamond).
The ACE Baseball program has become the official youth partners of the Cleveland Indians. They will be offering summer camps, high school fall leagues and the Baseball Buddies program. To register for any of the programs visit www.Indians.com/youthbaseball. You will find all of the details for each program, along with all the necessary steps to register for the programs that are in your area. For more information on ACE Baseball, contact Neal Packanik at 440-539-4428, e-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org, or go to www.acebaseball.com.