Matt Sanders loves baseball, particular the pitching side of the game. And he loves kids, especially when he’s teaching them about pitching.
So it stands to reason, that Sanders wants to spend a good chunk of his life around baseball and kids.
A former standout hurler at Annville-Cleona and Lebanon Valley College, Sanders, 34, is set to turn those twin passions into what he hopes will be his life’s work – Champ’s Performance Training, a 6,000 square foot baseball/softball training facility located at 1349 Cumberland Street in the city of Lebanon.
Formerly a pitching instructor for various employers in the last 6 or 7 years, Sanders decided a little while back he’d like to run his own show and the result of plenty of hard work and planning is Champ’s, named after his son Carter, nicknamed Champ, which will have its grand opening Friday, Saturday and Sunday.
“It wasn’t about the lessons, it was just the behavioral side of it,” he said of what drew him toward being a pitching instructor. “Being able to see the success of the kids and see them light up as their confidence grew. Maybe their ability didn’t but their confidence grew. And I got hooked on that. I told my wife (Abby), ‘It’s so neat to see when a kid gets it. Man, that’s so awesome.’ That was my dream for 6 or 7 years. I was like, ‘I gotta have my own place.’ This is what I want to do.”
And he’s doing it with the help of his friend, Paul Williams, who handles the business side, in what was formerly a somewhat storage warehouse. But in recent months, it has taken shape as Champ’s, complete with pitching and batting areas and workout equipment. It’s a Wednesday afternoon, two days before the grand opening, so it’s quiet now. But it soon won’t be, as new and prospective members fill the building with chatter and the sound of baseballs and softballs meeting gloves and bats.
“When we looked at it, I was like, ‘It’s gonna take a lot of work,'” Sanders said with a laugh. “But I was like, ‘You know what, this will be a good fit for a start.’ We’ll be here for a few years, bu we have a lot of plans for expansion.”
And a rabid group of supporters already, many of whom are yearning for a local facility to take their kids to and help them develop their skills.
“People are so excited about it, they want it open yesterday,” Sanders said. “I’m like, man, we still got a lot of work to do.’ That’s been the craziest part, just the reception we’ve gotten. They’re starving for a place like this. You can tell. They can get everything they want in one place.”
Sanders, who played some independent league pro ball after graduating from LVC in 2007, didn’t initially pursue his current line of work, but eventually realized it was his true calling.
“When I was playing, a lot of guys I played with, whether it was Major League or minor league or independent stuff, it seemed like everybody that got out of baseball was like, ‘Let’s start our own academy,'” Sanders said. “I always wanted to run my own business, but this really didn’t peak my interest until 6 or 7 years ago. Once I started doing lessons, I was hooked. I thought, ‘This is pretty cool.'”
Sanders believes Champ’s has come along at the perfect time in that Lebanon and some surrounding areas are in need of a place like it but don’t really have one. Or at least didn’t have one, until now.
“They need a bigger place, they really do,” he said of the void Champ’s will at least partially fill. “We’ve often talked about it. The more I’ve talked with the community and athletic directors, they’re all excited about this. People are more than excited about this. It’s been really cool.”
To help with the whole operation, Sanders has enlisted some fellow local baseball standouts, including former Palmyra star and ex-Lancaster Barnstormer Justin Hileman, former Elco and Messiah College pitcher Travis Thome and ex-Cedar Crest and Shippensburg University catcher Jared “Mugsy” Boger, who will all lend their expertise to members.
“We got some guys with pro ball experience,” Sanders said. “This will be a neat place.”
Champs will be open 7 days a week, Monday through Friday 3 p.m. to 10 p.m. – Sanders is busy during the day working as a long-term substitute gym teacher at Lebanon Middle School, Saturday 9 a.m. to 9 p.m., and Sunday 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.
There are three ways to take advantage of what Champ’s has to offer – you can purchase a membership, register for a program or clinic or take private lessons.
More information on Champ’s can be found on its website, champstrainingfacility.com, and on its Facebook and Twitter pages.
“It’s gonna be like a hangout,” Sanders said. “It’s a safe place where kids can come and get their work in in a positive environment, do their homework, knock that out and get back to the grind.”
And again, it all starts with the grand opening this weekend – Friday from 4 p.m. to 9 p.m., Saturday 9 a.m. to 2 p.m., and Sunday from noon to 5 p.m.