Q&A: The Baseball Center’s Michael Lombardi
Michael J. Lombardi is the Executive Director of The Baseball Center NYC, an indoor baseball/softball training facility on the Upper West Side of Manhattan.
Tell us a little about your background
I grew up on Long Island, playing soccer and baseball at St. Anthony’s HS in South Huntington, NY. I even joined the wrestling team my sophomore year. I graduated in 2000 as a Friar. Throughout my childhood, I also took dance classes (tap, jazz, and ballet) from age 2 up to age 20.
My youth sports career included many town and club baseball and soccer teams located close to my home. Once I hit high school, more well-known, nationally recognized baseball organizations came into play. I am a Bayside Yankee alum, having played for President Marc Cuseta for three years.
I attended and graduated from Georgetown University in 2004 where I was a four-year starter on “The Hilltop” as a switch-hitting catcher and was fortunate enough to make the Big East All-First team in 2004 (the first Georgetown player to do so since 1996) and Big East All-Third team in 2003. I was a member of the Rawlings Northeast All-Regional Team in 2004, named a “Johnny Bench” award Semi-Finalist in 2004, and earned Team MVP honors in 2002 and 2004.
My lifelong dream of playing professional baseball came true when I signed with the Phillies in June of 2004. That year, I played in the Gulf Coast League (Rookie Ball – also known as the Gulf Roast League since all games were played at noon in Florida) and was later promoted to Low-A Lakewood at the end of the season. In 2005, I played in Batavia, NY as a member of the Muckdogs, (Short Season – A), Lakewood again as a member of the BlueClaws, Clearwater Threshers (High-A), and Reading Phillies (Double-A).
For the 2007 baseball season I worked as an intern in the Baseball Operations department of the New York Mets, preparing all of their statistical analysis and packets, opposing team information, and the like. It was one of the best learning experiences of my life.
Before joining The Baseball Center in 2009, I worked as a trust associate with the Corporate Trust group at The Bank of New York Mellon in downtown NYC. We focused mainly on administering the securitizations of asset-back securities.
How has youth baseball changed since you were a kid?
Baseball as a youth sport has risen as far as Little League of America, Easton, and ESPN have taken it. More sponsorship, improved equipment, and upscale facilities such as Ripken Baseball and Baseball Heaven (on Long Island) have certainly commercialized the experience nowadays. The teachings and fundamentals have all remained true, further enforcing the game of baseball as a timeless passion.
From a recruiting standpoint, more organizations are marketing themselves as the “One-stop shop,” with such services as college recruitment, hitting/pitching analysis, side-by-side comparisons, including all the social media bells and whistles. There is a lot more opportunity to be seen nowadays. It seems like picking up the phone and calling a college coach, asking him what type of player he needs is a Jurassic technique no one utilizes anymore.
You played baseball at a major Division I university and then went on to play minor league ball. What did it take for you to achieve that? Tell us about your minor league experiences.
Immense hard work – working out and thinking about the game when no one was looking, and performing to the best of your ability when everyone was looking. Constant repetitions, perfect practice, and the faith required to believe what you were doing was truly on the path to your desired result.
Minor League life was definitely a learning experience. Confidence was a scarce commodity for someone like me who did not sign for big $$$$ like some other prospects, but was expected to perform just as quickly.
Travel life was tough (18-22 hour bus trips across the eastern seaboard), but being able to play baseball and hone your skills on a daily basis was unbelievably gratifying. I loved playing every day and miss it very much. All of my host families were warm and welcoming during my time in each city. They were as emotionally involved in my success as I was. I was very fortunate.
I played with some great teammates as well. Lou Marson (catcher for the Cleveland Indians) is still a friend of mine and I communicate with him regularly. Scott (Scooter) Mathieson was the fastest pitcher I caught (hitting 99 mph) in a game against the Delmarva Shorebirds in Delaware. He’s currently playing in Japan.
During Spring Training, I was able to catch Bret Myers, the late Cory Lidle, Jon Lieber, and Billy Wagner. I actually caught Billy Wagner in a spring training game against the Toronto Blue Jays minor leaguers. That was an amazing experience. He only hit 95 mph on the radar gun that game!
What in your background prepared you to run the Baseball Center?
I was always had the entrepreneurial spirit since college and I knew I wanted to lead a small business somewhere. What better place to prepare myself and learn than Manhattan, the city that never sleeps, in an industry (youth sports) that never sleeps? With so many variables at stake from scheduling, to coordinating, and accommodating clients, this role has not only challenged but taught me so many things about myself, business, and life – much like the game of baseball has taught me. I’ve always said – “sometimes you win, sometimes you learn.”
Tell us about your family.
I am married to a fellow Hoya, Jessica Cotter. We both graduated in 2004 and were married in 2007. We have a daughter, Bella Grace who is 5 yrs. old and a son, MJ, who will be 2 yrs. old in June. They both play baseball at The Baseball Center and will continue to play for as long as they wish.
I hope to be very active in their sports careers as a coach. I believe the faster you can develop the proper skills needed to succeed, the faster you come to a greater understanding and appreciation for the game.
What is the history of The Baseball Center? How did it come to be located in the basement of a bank?
Before The Baseball Center was installed, the bank utilized the downstairs space as their cafeteria and extra storage. Extra bank supplies, teller stations, old money counting machines, and even gym equipment all occupied the Green and Blue Rooms. Way before that, in the 1800s The Blue Room was actually a bowling alley for the residents who called the building their home. The Baseball Center began its operations in 2000 and has been here ever since. We went through a major renovation this past summer, installing new batting cages, new lighting fixtures, new padding, and will continue to upgrade the Green Room this upcoming summer.
What do you look for when you hire a coach to work with kids?
We look for someone who will adhere to and buy into our mission of “Enriching the lives of children through the education of baseball and softball: incorporating teamwork, skill, communication, self-esteem, and sportsmanship.” We look for type-A personalities who are proactive enough to handle any challenge they may face. And they must have prior experience working with children.
The Baseball Center has been around for quite a while. How has the landscape of youth sports (or baseball in particular) in NYC changed/evolved over that time?
Children are beginning to play organized baseball at a younger age these days. But even with the accessibility of so many activities available to the average youth participant, baseball has still always commanded a loyal following.
How is The Baseball Center’s program different than other sports programs?
Our Junior Slugger and After-School Programs focus more on fine tuning gross motor skills, understanding basic shapes and numbers, as well as following directions and teamwork now more than ever. Our Spring and Fall Outdoor Leagues are highly instructional by nature, and take advantage of as many teaching opportunities as possible. Baseball is an anticipatory game; our goal is not only to instruct how to play it properly, but also explain why we play it the way we do.
What are the particular challenges of doing what you do in NYC?
SPACE! SPACE! SPACE, particularly, OUTDOOR field space is at such a premium in NYC. Organizing programs, coordinating staff, and communicating with parents who want schedules at least a month in advance while permits are still being issued is the hardest challenge we face on a day-to-day basis.
You must have lots of great stories from your years working with kids. Tell us about one that inspired you.
We proudly support a number of growing organizations working with autistic children, most notably the New York Center for Autism Charter School. Our programs and teachings have reached thousands of autistic children over the years, some of whom have improved so dramatically they have joined our After-School program and Winter Clinics. To see a child gain enough confidence in his/her ability to join a class with other kids he/she may not know is truly an inspiration. It says we are contributing positively to their lives and must continue to work hard each and every day.
What was the best advice you got from a coach?
“Be aggressive. Play smart, but aggressive.”
Do you still play baseball yourself?
Yes, I play in the Central Park Summer League as a part-time member of the Legends – 2012 Champions.
What is your most treasured sports possession?
A baseball Signed by Willie Mays and a Montreal Expos Jersey signed by the late Gary Carter, my all-time favorite baseball player.
Mets or Yankees? Yankees
Giants or Jets? Giants
Knicks or Nets? Knicks
Rangers, Devils or Islanders? Islanders
Red Bulls? Don’t drink them. Too much sugar.
What is your favorite sports venue in New York City and why?
Yankee Stadium – home to the greatest sports team in the history of the world.
Which could you give up easier, playing sports or watching sports?
Favorite sports book? Moneyball
Favorite sports movie? Rudy
Best sports memory? Hitting a homerun in my final collegiate at-bat against Villanova.
If you’re not out playing sports or watching your kids play sports what do you enjoy doing?
Taking my wife out to dinner for a good meal and great conversation. Then it’s right back to the kids! Love them!See more commentaries