Thursday, March 18, 2010

Swing into spring at Nick's All Star Baseball Academy
by Sheryl Popp

Naturally, I know March Madness is just beginning, but baseball is the second sports world sign of spring. So it seems a good fit to profile Michael Nick's baseball academy now, even though the facility is open year round. I sat down with Michael and asked him to bring me up to speed.

Michael hails from Indiana originally, but moved to Silver Lake in West Bend when offered a job promotion in 1989. As he had always played and loved baseball, it was natural for him to foster that same passion in his son, Jonathan. They played together since Jonathan was little, and Michael took him to the academy (then owned by someone else), when he was eight. Four years ago, the academy's owner accepted a job out of town and was faced with closing the business. "I looked at the baseball academy as very beneficial to the community," said Michael. "So I offered to buy out his assets. It was kind of a hobby, and I thought both my children could work here in the summers." Before long, the hobby became expensive. Michael credits Vince and Janet Stockhausen with making it possible for Nick's All Star Baseball Academy to remain in the community. "This building (next to Stocky's Fast Track) was their old race track," explained Nick. "They made the space affordable and I have more room here - 5,000 square feet." The additional space has made it possible to grow the academy's offerings.

Actually, Michael had been widening the scope of the academy all along. "Originally," he said, "it was limited to private lessons and open hitting, and you had to be a member. I went out into the community looking for local talent like Wille and hired those people to teach specialty camps and clinics. I wanted this baseball academy to be different than any other." For other non-sports knowledge folk like me, "Wille," is Willie Mueller, a former Milwaukee Brewer pitcher. He played "The Duke" in the movie, Major League. Other trainers include local coaches, former Brewer Jim Gantner, and Mitch Knox, a West Bender who played for the University of Kentucky. Services at the academy include hitting lessons for baseball and softball, pitching lessons, hitting, fielding and pitching camps, catching, pitching and fielding clinics, girls' fast pitch lessons, men's slow pitch, weekly mini-camps throughout the winter months and more. One can still become a member and receive unlimited batting cage, soft-toss and pitchers mound usage. The facility's website,, lists all the various memberships and fees, plus scheduling. Camps and clinics are designed for various age groups, or to address a specific skill set.

"We film kids and analyze their form too," said Nick. "We place a great deal of emphasis on starting kids younger," he continued. "That's because most kids get hurt in sports because they don't know the basics. They didn't learn at a young enough age. Sports injuries are up like crazy. So, we introduce drills that you can't get in a big camp. We focus on quality and not quantity. Our camp size is about a dozen kids. That's about the biggest thing I've done since I bought the academy."

Specialty clinics help kids hone a skill that is rarely taught in a team environment. Not all are strictly physical. For example, an example of a mental issue might be a pitcher who runs into trouble whenever there are too many players on base. A physical example would be working on power hitting. That, said Michael, could literally be the difference between a double and a home run. Lest we forget, baseball has become an exact science. To succeed in this most competitive sport, players need to utilize every advantage. "Every kid dreams of becoming a pro," said Michael. "West Bend is really known for great baseball too. They've gone to State six out of the last seven years, and have done really well." Additional offerings and services that set Nick's apart include:

• a focus on younger girl's fundamentals and girl's fast pitch
• the indoor dirt pitching mound. It's completely regulation, with exact measurements. This is a huge advantage, said Michael, because a pitcher has to adjust his throw if using a simulated mound during the off season, and then back again. To the best of his knowledge, this is the only inside dirt mound in the state.
• a coach's key program. This allows local teams to have the facility to themselves for an hour and a half a week, year round. "This keeps kids' baseball muscles working," said Michael, "and it keeps the team cohesive, which builds continuity over the years. Also, it's just good general exercise during the winter."
• adult men's groups. Michael is developing less skill driven programs for men who would just like to practice. "I'd like to make it more of a social thing for them," he said. "I"m always looking for new ideas. For example, one of the kids who works here brought in the idea of agility and strength training. So we're offering a new clinic on that."

When Michael bought the academy, he looked at it as a community gathering place, but has learned it's a lot more than that. He employs six high school kids (including, as planned, his son Jonathan and daughter Jessica), and 12 local coaches. Other ex pros contact him because they have an interest in remaining active. He has also seen that the academy is ideally suited to promote a way for family members to connect, such as single parents and their children, or older siblings with their younger brothers and sisters. "The thing is," said Michael, "this remains a constant for them. Love of baseball doesn't change like musical taste."

Nick's All Star Baseball Academy isn't a money making venture. Michael is now self-employed, so he's able to handle the administrative end of things, and teach some of the clinics. It's open to anyone in the community and surrounding area, and fees are more than fair, considering class size and program advantages. If these costs are still too much for a family, inquire anyway. Something will be worked out. Nick's All-Star Baseball Academy is located at 6405 Stockhausen Lane in West Bend. The phone is 262-334-5093. Do go to the website above for a complete list of services, camps and clinics. Regular open hours at the facility are: Mon.-Thurs., 3:30-7:30pm, Fri., 3-6pm, Sat., 12-4pm and Sun., 12-3pm.

Michael told me he was a great cook. At first thought, you might not judge a cook by chocolate chip cookies. Take a closer look, these are indeed "special." "And," he added, "make sure to say they have to be put together in the order given or they don't work out."

Michael's "Very Famous" Chocolate Chip Cookies
Cream together:
1 cup of softened butter
1 cup brown sugar
1 1/2 cup granulated sugar
Next, add to the above:
1 Tbl. milk
1 tsp. vanilla
Beat two eggs and add into the above. Then stir in:
1 cup dry crumpled corn flakes
3 cups oats
Set aside and in separate bowl, mix:
1 1/2 cups unsifted four
1 1/4 tsp. baking soda
1 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. mace
1 1/2 tsp. cinnamon
1/4 tsp. nutmeg
1/8 tsp. powdered cloves
Add to the above mixture. Finally, stir in:
4 oz. coconut flakes
1 pkg. chocolate chips
1 cup chopped nuts (Michael uses walnuts)
Drop cookies onto cookie sheet and bake at 350ยบ for 10 minutes.
Note: To preserve softness, put into container with a piece of bread.

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