Click here to see the full story
Last year, 28 athletes out of the Hunter Pence Baseball Academy signed their letters of intent to continue playing baseball.
This past school year, over 40 athletes made their commitments to play at the next level.
With 158 players committed and counting since opening, HPBA has developed a trend of sending players to college through the help of numerous instructors and coaches.
“It feels incredibly good, but to get that done took a lot of work,” Hunter Pence Baseball Academy co-owner Sean Danielson said. “We have a great staff here and our goal is to network and meet as many college coaches as possible, find the right fit for our players because not everybody is going to be a draft pick, go to Division I, play at the best junior college.
“Even though they all expect to, there’s a different fit for each player and that’s where we specialize. We try to prepare players for what we feel is the best path, try to present options for them to continue to follow their dreams.”
The academy opened January 1, 2011 in northwest Houston and serves surrounding areas including Cypress, Klein, Spring, and Tomball.
Danielson moved to Houston in 2009. At that time, he was playing baseball in the minor leagues and Hunter Pence was an Astro.
Having been teammates when they were 10 years old and from the Dallas area, they became close and reconnected, working out together in the offseason.
Following his last year playing in 2010, Danielson decided he wanted to open a baseball academy. Hunter’s brother co-owner Howie, who had retired from baseball and lived in Houston, wanted to open it with him.
“We were trying to decide what we should name it and Hunter was with us and he said, ‘Hey I’m an Astro, I think this would really get you guys rolling, why don’t you call it Hunter Pence Baseball Academy,’” Danielson said.
According to HPBA, their objective is to introduce young players to an academy that closely mirrors that of a professional organization by teaching them what it takes to make it to the next level, instilling proper work habits both on and off the field.
Players are able to sign up for lessons through the HPBA application, available on the App Store, where they can book classes/camps/tryouts, lessons with specific instructors/coaches or cage rentals.
One of the coaches is former player Ryan Crew, who was drafted by Milwaukee in 2005 and has helped send a lot of players to college.
“It’s definitely rewarding, that’s why we started it,” Crew said. “Every one of the coaches here takes pride in that.”
Crew started the showcase side of it, which is intended for players who want to display their skills in front of college coaches. He also runs the summer camps.
Right now, HPBA is doing a fast-twitch program for kids which helps them work on their first three steps; learn how to be explosive. They similarly do a velocity and arm care program.
Furthermore, the academy has anywhere from 12-18 teams, depending on the season, that range from ages 18U-8U and participate in tournaments.
“For the little guys it’s about development,” Danielson said. “For the older guys it’s about trying to get them that next level, college exposure and preparing them, how to get there and showing them what’s next.”
No days off
Outfielder/infielder Kyle Reece graduated from Cy-Fair this past year and signed to play at Bossier Parish CC. Yet, instead of taking a break, he was putting in work at the academy, July 17.
“I’m still trying to get as much work as I can in the summer just so I can have at bats and be ready for the fall season,” Reece said. “I’m so grateful, they’ve done so much for me, I’ll always come back.”
Fellow Bobcat pitcher rising senior Rhett McCaffety was at the academy as well, working on his pitching and hitting, so he can do both effectively at the next level.
“These guys are like my family now, I spend almost every day with them,” McCaffety said. “Especially in the recruiting process and going to college, they’re helping me out a lot.”
Rising eighth grader first baseman McClane Helton, who is zoned to Cy Woods, was also at the academy alongside McCaffety, learning hitting and pitching mechanics from coaches.
Connie Heidemeyer had a good view of her son Klein Collins rising junior pitcher/outfielder Spencer Heidemeyer, whose batting average has gone up, is making better contact with the ball and has gotten better in the outfield since becoming a part of the academy last year.
“He’s learned a lot, I would recommend it, the coaches are very knowledgeable,” Connie Heidemeyer said. “I think if he works hard he has just as much opportunity as anybody else.”
Danielson’s favorite part about HPBA is the energy.
During downtime, athletes and coaches occasionally play basketball, ping pong or take swings together inside the batting cages.
“We can also relax, have some fun and get to know each other on that sort of level, treat it like a family environment,” Danielson said.
Something that Danielson is very proud of is that they had a first-round MLB draft pick in JJ Goss. Fellow teammate Matt Thompson and Jared Alvarez-Lopez were also drafted.
“That was a very big deal for us,” Danielson said. “JJ was very appreciative of everything that happened and that’s another big part of the family environment.”
The past nine years have been a blessing for Danielson to say the least, from giving back to the game, to seeing players excelling on and off the field.
“Hunter Pence is very proud of the academy,” Danielson said. “He plays the game extremely hard and really that’s what we try to instill into the players. You can’t control who wants you, but you can control how hard you play and what you focus on.”