Puttin’ the Teach On Young Baseball Players
Mike Porzio, former Major League baseball pitcher and owner of The Clubhouse, the new baseball training facility at 2215 Black Rock Turnpike in Fairfield, stands behind a protective screen, tossing baseballs to one of his young students.
Still lean as in his playing days with the Rockies and White Sox until he retired in 2003, Porzio flips the ball with a measured eye and a practiced southpaw. His student slams a line drive back at the 38-year-old, who ducks deftly behind the screen. He praises his high-school student for driving the ball back through the middle. His student is learning his lesson well.
As Porzio sees it, it’s all about the instruction. His facility offers some of the best professional baseball tutelage east of Yankee Stadium, and for young players, that’s priceless. Porzio quotes baseball great Ty Cobb: “Someone has to put the ‘teach’ on players.” At The Clubhouse, they do just that—putting the big-time “teach” on young players. “We’re bringing the Major League experience to kids,” Porzio says. “We create opportunities for kids. We help them get to where they want to go.”
The Clubhouse offers an All-Star teaching lineup of former Major Leaguers that specializes in professional pitching and hitting instruction for baseball and softball: Bridgeport Bluefish manager Willy Upshaw of Fairfield; former big leaguers Angel Echevarria of Bridgeport and Matt Merullo from Fairfield Prep; and Amber Radowski, head softball coach at Manhattanville College.
The staff teaches in an attractive 11,000-square-foot facility with six batting tunnels, three indoor clay mounds, and additional pitching mounds. Life-size photos of three Major League parks cover the back wall of the facility: Yankee Stadium, Cellular Field (White Sox), and Fenway Park. Major Leaguers are developed, not born,” Porzio says. “We want to help kids develop their skills. We’re not guaranteeing you’ll be a professional if you come here. But we’re confident that you’ll walk out of here a better player.”
For his promising local high-school and college stars, Porzio has arranged a showcase before several college baseball coaches and scouts on June 24 at Harbor Yard, home of the Bridgeport Bluefish. His goal is to expose his most talented students, giving them the opportunity he had—to further their education through scholarships and continue their baseball careers or even get drafted. After graduating from Fairfield Prep, Porzio won a baseball scholarship to Villanova University that eventually led to the big leagues.
“We’re creating opportunities for kids,” Porzio says. “Many showcases lead to nothing. We’re featuring pre-approved kids so the coaches will come.” Joseph Bottone of Westport brings his son, Joey, a freshman at Staples High School, to The Clubhouse for lessons because of the individual and professional instruction. “Mike is good at what he does,” Bottone says. “[Joey]’s learned more here in his first three weeks than he’s ever gotten. My son is getting three or four instructors suggesting things. It’s great. Where else can you get that?”
At The Clubhouse, young players rub elbows with the “big” boys, where they put the “teach” on the kids. “We try to keep it simple for the kids,” Porzio said. “We connect the dots for players. They learn to move and think like a Major Leaguer. We think that’s a unique experience you can’t find everywhere.”