Randy Angel

Beach City Baseball Academy a special place for kids

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Five-year-old Ryder Shields gets batting tips from Nigel Nootbaar. Photos courtesy of Beach City Baseball Academy

Five-year-old Ryder Shields gets batting tips from Nigel Nootbaar. Photos courtesy of Beach City Baseball Academy

Successfully hitting a baseball is one of the most difficult disciplines to accomplish in the world of sports, yet millions of kids each year enjoy America’s National Pastime and the thrill that comes with the feel of the bat hitting the ball.

Professional players who only average three hits in 10 attempts can earn all-star recognition with a .300 batting average, but for children living with special needs, the art of hitting a baseball is much more difficult.

Each Saturday at Beach City Baseball Academy (BCBA) in El Segundo, approximately 20 kids with special needs hear cheers and receive high fives as they learn the basic skills of hitting a baseball.

About 35 kids participate in the community service program provided by BCBA that is offering unlimited one-on-one 30-minute batting sessions to these children for free.

“The goal of the session is not only to teach the child how to hit a baseball, but also to build confidence and have fun,” said Richard Murad, owner of BCBA. “Mastery over hitting unlocks the entire world of baseball for them and gives these kids a well deserved sense of accomplishment.”

BCBA’s commitment to free lessons comes as a financial relief to families of children with special needs, who find themselves constantly paying exorbitant fees to care for their children and provide them with a happy life. It is estimated that the economic cost of care for a child with special needs is four times or more than children without.

“I started the special needs program for selfish reasons,” Murad said. “There is nothing more rewarding to me then helping to make a positive difference in the lives of anyone that needs help. Seeing a parent and their child smile and be proud and knowing that I had something to do with that is more valuable to me than anything else I own.”

Timme Spanos’ son Zachary Spanos spent a considerable amount of time at the Special Needs Clinic before his family moved to the east coast.

Taking part in Beach City Baseball Academy’s Special Needs Clinic are Zachary Spanos, Coach Matt Watson, Jeff Duerr and Coach Dane Brannekir.

Taking part in Beach City Baseball Academy’s Special Needs Clinic are Zachary Spanos, Coach Matt Watson, Jeff Duerr and Coach Dane Brannekir.

“Zachary loved it there,” said his mother, Timme Spanos, “He started when he was 12. He wanted to go to BCBA as often as possible. He was so comfortable that he used the exercise gym as well as take lessons with the hitting coaches. His father was the defensive coordinator for the UCLA football team. Now he’s with the Tennessee Titans. We’re a sports family and we’re proud of the spark that BCBA ignited in Zachary.”

Among the staff coaches assigned to this program is former El Segundo High School and USC star and recent Baltimore Orioles draft pick Nigel Nootbaar, who played for Baltimore’s short season A team in Aberdeen, MD this summer. Murad reached out to the hometown hero and asked if he’d be willing to help with the Special Needs Clinic.

“After all that this community has done for me to help get me where I am now, I feel it’s only right to give back in any way possible,” Nootbaar said. “As an El Segundo native who played for El Segundo High School, I’ve known about BCBA ever since I started playing baseball when I was 5. Back then, it was called Total Baseball but I’ve been using the facility my entire life. I remember being in the camps at a young age.”

Nootbaar was an all-CIF player at El Segundo who, during his senior year, posted a 1.38 ERA while holding opponents to a .191 batting average, striking out 65 in 60 2/3 innings. At the plate, he batted .424 with 27 runs, 10 doubles, five home runs and 27 RBI.

At USC, the right-handed pitcher made 43 appearances, striking out 69 batters through 99 complete innings with three saves. He also made 11 career starts. As a sophomore in 2013, he struck out a career-high 12 batters against Fresno State.

Used mainly out of the USC bullpen in 2014, Nootbaar was drafted in the 12th round of the Major League Baseball First Year Player’s Draft becoming the first Trojan selected by Baltimore since the Orioles drafted second baseman/outfielder Damon Buford in the 10th round of the 1990 draft.

“I loved my first season as a professional, but I still have a lot to learn,” Nootbaar said. “I hope to be playing for the Delmarva Shorebirds next season, which is the Orioles’ single A team.”

Nootbaar said he has benefited from coaching at the Special Needs Clinic in more ways than one.

“It actually helps me out. As I progress to higher levels, sometimes I get away from the basic fundamentals that got me there and it’s a nice reminder of how fun playing baseball is,” Nootbaar explained. “It definitely brings back great memories of hitting in those same exact batting cages that I used as a kid.

“It’s very rewarding helping these kids learn the basic fundamentals of baseball. To see them smile after hitting a ball is really what keeps me excited to continue.”

Beach City Baseball Academy is located at 430 East Grand Avenue El Segundo and provides well-maintained training equipment and skilled instructors who teach beyond the fundamentals with individualized custom programs, assisting the student athlete to achieve at the scholastic, college and professional level.

In addition to managing and operating well-organized baseball camps that are open to everyone, the Academy sponsors The Beach City Prospects, a program of competitive and developmental traveling club teams with tournament schedules.

To learn more about the Special Needs Clinics and BCBA, visit beachcitybaseballacademy.com.

 

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