Batter Up

photo by Matt Cornelius
photo by Matt Cornelius

Batter Up

As Billy Beane questioned in the movie Moneyball, “How can you not be romantic about baseball?” We love going to the games. We love the atmosphere.

People go crazy over the players, the rules, the stadium and the food. But only a few pay attention to the mechanics that go into making the sport what it really is. Baseball is not all about natural talent; it is about the techniques perfected by the players after countless swings and after running plays repetitively over many years. Different players have different batting stances, they throw the ball in different ways and may even run in ways that make them stand apart from the rest. No two players are the same. On the field, they get the attention they deserve, but the other stars of the game who are often overlooked are the coaches and trainers who work with these athletes day-in and day-out. In Texarkana, we are lucky to have many great coaches and first-class facilities that are invaluable in producing hometown baseball stars with the skill and techniques needed to dominate the game we all love so much.

Tom Middlebrooks, a local teacher and coach, is the owner and operator of iHit. iHit is a baseball training facility in Liberty Eylau, where baseball and softball players and entire teams can go to work on their skills to improve their playing ability. Middlebrooks has been involved in sports all of his life, including being instrumental in his own children’s ball-playing careers. He was not only a high school athlete, but a college athlete as well. Remaining heavily involved in a sports lifestyle and now in his sixties, still teaching all he knows to young, aspiring athletes. Coach Middlebrooks is retiring this year from Liberty-Eylau High School where he has held multiple coaching positions, including head baseball coach. Though retiring from school sports, he still opens his doors to local athletes to instill in them all he knows about the game he loves. He is married to Julie Middlebrooks, an art teacher at Red Lick Middle School, and has three children who all love sports, thanks to his great influence; Will (former MLB third baseman), Lacey (Head Volleyball and Softball coach at Liberty Eylau High School), and of course, me, Mary Middlebrooks.

Growing up, sports were involved in our lives from the minute we could walk. I remember playing tee-ball at three or four years old, basketball around age six, soccer at age seven, and standing behind us through it all was our dad, coach and our biggest supporter, Tom Middlebrooks. I can remember my first big toy being a tee-ball kit to play with in the backyard. I learned the game, not from my team’s coach, but from my father. Although I did not go far with sports, I will always be thankful for the coach I had in Tom Middlebrooks. He taught us not only the sport, but discipline, respect and appreciation for those who were molding us into the players we would grow up to be, on and off the field. Although he was rarely the coach of our own teams, he was always there, coaching from behind the chain-link fence, making sure we played with all our hearts and that, most importantly, we had fun doing so.

Coach Middlebrooks’ local baseball training facility brings children as young as eight all the way to collegiate level athletes, through its doors, desperate to become better at this beloved game. iHit began with basic hitting and pitching lessons offered at the Liberty-Eylau baseball field. It has evolved over the years into an important addition to the training schedules of many athletes in the Texarkana community. You walk in to Fenway green walls, batting cages, pitching mounds and a flag representing each Major League Baseball team. It is a baseball lover’s dream. What is special about this place is its friendly, judgment-free atmosphere where everyone is welcome. There is music playing, people laughing and players focused on getting better. It is a great atmosphere, not only for the players, but for the parents who enjoy watching their children do what they love. These athletes grow from children to star-studded high school baseball and softball athletes, exceeding even Middlebrooks’ high expectations.

Not only does Middlebrooks have a love for the game, he has an extensive knowledge of it as well. He has spent a lifetime training, studying, playing and bettering himself in order to now better others through all he has learned. His knowledge has taken young coach-pitch players and made them collegiate stars.

I have always believed Tom Middlebrooks will still be coaching baseball and softball players when he can no longer stand. The man lives and breathes baseball and now spends his time spreading his love of the game to everyone who walks through the doors. To me, my siblings and the many who have had the privilege of being coached by him, Coach Middlebrooks is truly a hometown baseball legend.


 

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