January 15, 2011 11:45:00 PM
STARKVILLE -- As a lifelong baseball player, Thomas Berkery knows the importance of the tutelage he received growing up.
He''s ready to repay the game of baseball.
Berkery, a former Mississippi State infielder and Boo Ferriss Trophy winner, is set to open "The Swing," a 9,000-square-foot indoor baseball and softball practice facility on Industrial Road.
Baseball and softball players will be able to receive lessons from Berkery or to rent batting cages at The Swing, which is set to open Thursday.
Berkery will have a grand opening Jan. 28, when former teammates Mitch Moreland, Jeffrey Rea, and Ed Easley and Marcus Thames will be on hand to sign autographs.
The idea behind Berkery''s first business venture is to provide an outlet for offseason training and an alternative method of practice when weather forces athletes indoors.
Always fond of Starkville and the surrounding area, Berkery, whose wife, Jana, is from Starkville, said the lack of a facility of its kind and the potential to help area players improve made his decision simple.
Berkery, a Sarasota, Fla. native, wants to establish a local connection after a standout career at MSU.
"I''m gonna give them 110 percent quality lessons, good instruction, and try to have the best facility I can," Berkery said. "Kids have to know they''re getting better by taking lessons or renting out a mound or cages. Parents have to know they''re getting their money''s worth.
"If you''re somebody who doesn''t want to listen to a parent about what their kid does and how he plays, they''re not gonna come back."
Berkery admits he has some nerves about starting a business, but outside of focusing on overhead and facilities upkeep, he has laid out a plan for future revenue streams.
The Swing will provide lessons from Berkery, but it also will be available for parents or private instructors to give lessons to players. Teams can rent cages or mounds, too.
Individual memberships will cost $30, which will activate discounts for rentals, lessons, merchandise, and camps.
Berkery also hopes to use The Swing to sponsor travel teams. His business model stems from the experience he gained handling lessons and accounting at two similar facilities.
Berkery hopes to pour his knowledge from being general manager at Knoxville, Tenn.-based training facility "The Yard" and working with former MSU teammates Matthew Maniscalco and Steve Gendron at Excel Baseball Academy in Alabama into his first business.
Maniscalco believes Berkery is ready to run a business.
"I think the biggest thing I noticed from day one when he got here was he worked so well with the kids," Maniscalco said. "He''s got good rapport with them, and they just kind of flock to Thomas. He knows when a kid needs to be kind of disciplined and when to have fun with them. Certain people are blessed with that."
Maniscalco said Berkery''s experience will help him prepare for the surprises business owners encounter. His knowledge of the game will be his biggest draw.
"He opened up a whole new avenue for us (at Excel)," Maniscalco said. "He was so unique because he played so many positions. He could teach second base, catcher, shortstop -- his flexibility was big for us. Catchers knew a lot about pitching, too, so that also helped.
Berkery is a good example of making the most of his talent. He had just two scholarship offers coming out of high school before choosing MSU. He redshirted his first year on campus and hit .260 as a freshman. In his final season (2006), he hit close to .400 and earned the Ferriss Trophy as the top collegiate player in Mississippi.
Watching kids respond to challenging workouts at Excel showed Berkery kids just need a place to practice and to learn.
"I think you got to have a good relationship with kids and be a good role model, first and foremost," Berkery said. "Those kids really look up to Matthew and Steve. I''ve never seen kids work as hard as they did in their place.
"That''s the main thing I''m going to try and get across to these kids. Somebody will always outwork you, whether it''s for a spot on the JV team or for a scholarship."