Former Phillies pitcher offers training in South Philly

Relief pitcher Ricky Bottalico hosted a pitching clinic through South Philly Sports Training.

Former Phillies pitcher Ricky Bottalico instructs 10-year-old John Bariana of South Jersey in Point Breeze last weekend. The veteran MLB player hosted a pitching clinic through the South Philly Sports Training. (GRACE MAIORANO/South Philly Review)

Young athletes were recently equipped with MLB pointers in Point Breeze.

On Dec. 29, South Philly Sports Training, a regional operation providing predominantly baseball and softball training to local rising players, hosted a pitching clinic featuring former Phillies relief pitcher Ricky Bottalico.

Bottalico, who played in the major leagues from 1994 to 2005 and is now an analyst on NBC Sports Philadelphia, brought the top tips he’s collected on the professional mound to the South Philly batting cages, where a handful of young pitchers from around the region received one-on-one training with the veteran Phillie.

As Bottalico continues his retirement from pro ball, he says, nowadays, it’s all about the kids.

“It’s nice to come down to South Philly and do it, too,” he said. “I think that’s more of what we’re looking for is an area where we can come in and work with kids and really let them know that the big leagues isn’t that far off. It really isn’t. I don’t care how old you are. I had a dream when I was a little kid to make the big leagues, and I never thought it was really possible. But, it happened.”

Bottalico’s benevolence aligns with the mission of the recently established South Philly Sports Training, which opened its doors at 25th and Reed streets in December 2015.

Recognizing an inflating need for authentic baseball training in South Philadelphia, local baseball past master Dominic Nardini, who’s gathered a scope of training experience, including coaching the the 2005 11U Little League district champion from Delaware Valley Youth Athletic, assembled a team of local seasoned athletes to offer private training sessions.

Shifting the focus from business to instruction, the group of eight regionally successful baseball players, including minor league players Albert Baur and Jimmy Kerrigan, aim to instill not only athleticism but character building in the participating mentees who range from 7 to 22 years old.

Former Phillies pitcher Ricky Bottalico instructs 15-year-old Aidan Dougherty of Friends Select School in Point Breeze last weekend. The veteran MLB player hosted a pitching clinic through the South Philly Sports Training. (GRACE MAIORANO/South Philly Review)

“We just see the level of play deteriorating,” Nardini said. “So, we’re just trying to do what we can to bring that back, because we all love the game, and we don’t want to see it die in the area where we live.”

Nardini says a linchpin of South Philly Sports Training, which partners with Delaware Valley Youth Athletic and Taney Youth Baseball Association, is the natural mentorship that unfolds as older athletes train around the younger ones. The staff believes novice athletes simply watching and listening to experienced players makes lasting effects both on physical and mental levels.

And Bottalico, who recently connected with the South Philly Sports Training, fits this bill, Nardini says.

“He wants to actually teach,” Nardini said. “Which I found amazing because, I mean, a guy who’s a retired major league baseball player — obviously, he’s not in it because he’s starving…but he wants to teach. Again, maybe he sees what we see.”

Throughout the morning, aspiring pitchers from South Jersey to Center City practiced their fastballs with Bottalico, who incessantly stressed to “throw through the glove, not to the glove.”

While keeping the chin, hips and rest of the body facing the catcher, Bottalico advised the athletes to pretend to be grabbing something while throwing the ball to reach the maximum extension.

“He has credibility, so you can trust him more,” said 15-year-old pitcher Aidan Dougherty of Friends Select School. “See what works for him, what didn’t work for him. He said most of the game is mental… about how, if you’re positioning wasn’t right or you weren’t throwing the ball correctly, that the odds are always in your favor of how even the greatest hitters only hit the ball three out of 10 times. So, you have a seven-out-of-10 chance to always get them out. He’s a great guy. He gives really good tips. He’s really knowledgeable.”

Bottalico says his students were responsive to the lessons. The most challenging part was having the kids provide feedback on what they’re feeling. But, he’s noticed that this comfortability takes trust over time.

However, for him, the most rewarding part was the art of simply giving back, noting that, when he was a young athlete, he did not have opportunities to train with former MLB players.

“It’s all about trying to make people better in more ways than one — whether it’d be mentally, physically,” Bottalico said. “Just a little bit of everything. Look, when you’re in a situation where you can do this, and you can bring kids in and make them better and maybe get them noticed down the line, can you really ask for more?”

For those who may have missed out on the Dec. 29 training, future lessons with Bottalico can be scheduled through South Philly Sports Training. Contact (215) 767–8103 or for more information.

Follow Grace on Twitter at @gracemaiorano.