Baseball has no offseason at The Rake

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Baseball and softball have no offseason at The Rake. Jeremy Schellhorn opened the academy last year, converting a former greenhouse space at his Monona business, Outdoor Creations Landscape and Garden Center, into an area perfect for hitting and pitching. Artificial turf helps simulate the playing surface while fielding grounders. He’s pictured with son Jacob, who’s also an integral part of The Rake. (Photos by Audrey Posten)

The Rake offers private lessons as well as clinics and camps—all of which teach the baseball and softball fundamentals. Camps the week of winter break, for example, included daily sessions on aspects like pitching, catching, defense and hitting.

By Audrey Posten, Times-Register

 

The thump of a ball hitting the palm of a glove. The thwack of a bat connecting with a pitch. They’re typically sounds of summer, not a wintry weekday in late December.

 

But at The Rake baseball and softball academy, the sport has no offseason.

 

Jeremy Schellhorn opened The Rake last year, converting a former greenhouse space at his Monona business, Outdoor Creations Landscape and Garden Center, into an area perfect for hitting and pitching. Artificial turf helps simulate the playing surface while fielding grounders.

 

Part of Jeremy’s inspiration was the family’s love for the game. Wife Megan played softball in college and later coached, and he’s coached son Jacob, now a sophomore at MFL MarMac, since youth ball. Jacob has been a starting shortstop and pitcher for the Bulldogs since eighth grade and also plays on a spring and fall 16U team called the Northeast Iowa Mudd Puppies.

 

“Baseball has been such a big thing for us—always part of our lives,” Jeremy said. “Even when we get home, we’re watching videos or a game is always on. Now, we’re planning a trip for the summer to check off a couple more major league stadiums. After this year, it will be 11 stadiums we’ve gotten to.”

 

The Schellhorns’ beagle, aptly named Wrigley after the famous Cubs baseball stadium, was inspiration for The Rake and Mudd Puppy logos.

 

But even more so than feeding a love for the game, Jeremy hopes The Rake makes the sport accessible to area kids.

 

“The basketball offseason is in the summer, so you can go outside and shoot, or go into the gym. Volleyball, you can bump around and do those things inside. Football you lift in the offseason and do camps. Baseball, the offseason is during the winter, so it’s hard to find a facility to do it,” Jeremy explained. “Right now, the closest facility we know of that has any kind of lessons is an hour and a half away or two hours. I wanted to bring that here.”

 

“The day I was looking at that clean slate of concrete, I thought, ‘Here’s my opportunity,’” he recalled. “I can build it, but will they come?”

 

Jeremy and Jacob started offering one-on-one evening lessons multiple times a week last February and plan to continue that along with holding weekday morning clinics before school. Weight lifting is also available, and Jeremy has contacted lifting coaches to learn about in-season and offseason lifting programs more specifically related to baseball.

 

“Usually, we’re back there every night of the week. It’s really fun, especially when you have the kids who want to be there and invest the time in it,” Jacob said.

 

He likes having a space solely dedicated to baseball.

 

“Otherwise, you’d have to go into the gym, and the cage is so low you can barely stand in there. And you’re taking ground balls on the wood floor,” he added. “In here, it’s just so much better. You can actually take ground balls you’ll get on the field.”

 

The Rake has also expanded to camps. The week of winter break, for example, included daily sessions on aspects from catching and defense to pitching and hitting. Jeremy was able to bring in current and former players, as well as other area coaches, to lead the camps.

 

“I like getting the opportunities to get these other people in. Then, they’re not just going to hear it from me,” he said. “Having the resources is how you get better. It’s listening to other coaches and players. I’m also back there learning.”

 

Outside private lessons, clinics and camps are limited to six athletes due to space and to provide adequate one-on-one time. The Rake has a membership fee to join, with an additional cost for lessons, but that membership gives players first dibs on lessons, camps and clinics, noted Jeremy.

 

All offerings focus on the fundamentals.

 

“We strongly believe, both of us, in the fundamental part of it. If that base isn’t there, you can’t excel farther,” Jeremy said. “So everything from hitting, pitching to defense is basic, basic, basic. This is how you stand, this is where your feet need to be, this is where your hands need to be. Then we start doing more things to make an athlete better.”

 

The Schellhorns encourage participants to “trust the process.” That motto is even on a sign at The Rake.

 

“We’re not going to turn you into an all-conference batter the first week you’re here. I wish it was the fast,” Jeremy joked. “It’s the process.”

 

He uses Jacob’s class as an example. Several key positions, including Jacob at shortstop, Parker Kuehl in centerfield and Quinn McGeough at catcher, were filled by players who saw significant playing time as eighth graders and have continued to grow in the sport.

 

“It took years to get these kids where they’re at,” Jeremy said.

 

Jacob follows the “trust the process” mentality in his own play.

 

“I always think, when I go to camps, if you can take one thing away from the camp, you’re getting better,” he shared. “Here, you’re getting kids better by one thing every day, and that will help them in the long run.”

 

The Rake has so far drawn players from MFL MarMac, Clayton Ridge, Central, Waukon, South Winn and Decorah, some of whom are members of the 16U and 12U Mudd Puppy teams. Ages have ranged from high school to elementary school.

 

Engaging the youth is important in growing players individually and growing baseball and softball programs, according to Jeremy. 

 

“For every sport, it starts at the youth level, teaching the fundamentals and how to play the game,” he said. 

 

Growth also includes a commitment to playing year-round.

 

“We just can’t do baseball and softball starting May 1 and be done by July 1,” Jeremy explained.

 

“I think of Kee High,” added Jacob. “They put nine kids together who’ve played together since they were five years old, and they win every year. They play year-round. When people realize how much it takes, that’s when we’ll start winning even more and more. The people who want to excel on that field are going to want to come in here. People haven’t understood yet that they really could use this to their advantage.”

 

The biggest challenge, according to Jeremy, will be getting not just players, but their parents, to buy into that philosophy.

 

“It’s been fun to see how much it’s grown already,” he said. “I’ll go watch the younger kids play and they’ll come up to me and say, ‘Guess what I did? Guess what I did? I hit a double over the girl’s head.’”

 

“This is not just an area with a cage and turf in it. It’s the ability to get these kids to understand and buy into it and get the potential,” Jeremy continued. “There’s a lot of talent in our softball and baseball players. Now, we’ve got to convince them that potential is there and get that out of them.”

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