Swinging for the Fences
Former Ballplayer Shifts to Another Field — EntrepreneurshipPeter Fatse remembers having an interesting mix of emotions as he officially ended his professional baseball career several months ago.
An undersized utility player who could handle several positions on the diamond, Fatse, who starred at Minnechaug High School and later the University of Connecticut before being drafted by the Milwaukee Brewers in 2009, spent a few seasons shifting between the lower minor leagues and Independent League rosters. He did, however, get one at-bat in the majors.
That was during spring training in 2010, against the Arizona Diamondbacks. He has the baseball commemorating that event, and the ability, as most athletes do, to recall all the details. “I was the last out of spring training, I went up in the ninth inning and struck out,” he told BusinessWest. “It was against Chad Qualls; I started fouling pitches off, and then he threw me a breaking ball and it was over.”
Fatse would later be signed by the Baltimore Orioles, and continued to work out last fall and early this year in anticipation of maybe getting another phone call from a team looking to see what he could do. Such a call never came, however, and Fatse decided to call an end to his baseball career and launch another one in business.
“You sign these retirement papers to make it official, and it’s kind of depressing” he recalled. “You sit back and think of all the times when all you ever wanted to do was play, and it’s like, ‘wow, you’re not playing anymore.’ But I wouldn’t have done it if I wasn’t comfortable with the decision.”
And that comfort level was created, in large part, by the realization that he could now devote all or most of his energy (he’s also a hitting coach for the Holyoke Blue Sox) to a potential-laden entrepreneurial venture he’s been developing over the past few years.
It’s called Advanced Performance Player Development, and while those first two words are in all caps and a larger type size on Fatse’s business card and signage, and form the company’s acronym (AP), emphasis is on the terms ‘performance’ and ‘development.’ The former speaks for itself, mostly, but the later needs some clarification.
Indeed, with this venture it refers to everything from help with hitting a curveball off a lefthander, as dialed up by the operator of the company’s new, state-of-the-art pitching machine, to making the transition from little leagues to high school ball; from help with deciding which college might make the best fit for a player weighing several scholarship offers, to advice on dealing with prospective agents.
“I offer individualized instruction, including a lot of video analysis, and we offer a high-level baseball instruction,” Fatse said of the venture operating in a large space, complete with artificial turf and batting cages, in the former home of Maybury Material Handling in East Longmeadow. “But what we’re moving toward is more player-development based.”
Elaborating, he displayed a poster for one of AP’s upcoming initiatives, called the Rising Freshman program, in which he and others will help 13- and 14-year-olds make the transition — athletically and academically — to high school.
“The focus will be on baseball instruction, but we’ll also bring in an academic advisor and speakers to talk to the kids about the many responsibilities of being a student athlete — focusing on such things as how to handle yourself, coach/teacher communications, managing study skills, and more.”
Meanwhile, for older youths, the company is finalizing a college-development program, during which high school underclassmen will receive similar assistance with the transition to their next level.
Overall, this range of services, the potential to work with clients over several years of development, and the prospects for eventually adding more sports to the mix, gives AP strong growth potential, said Fatse, adding that it is currently working with roughly 125 athletes from a wide geographic area and looks to greatly increase that number in the years to come.
An early measure of AP’s success is the number of caps mounted on one wall in Fatse’s office and the collection of baseballs on a nearby bookcase. These items were sent along by players who have trained at the facility or taken part in some of its programs. And the collection will certainly grow this summer and fall as ‘clients’ (that’s one of many terms Fatse uses to describe those he serves) move onto college or pro ball, as in the case of Mike Ahmed, the East Longmeadow and Holy Cross product who was selected in the 20th round of the recent draft by the Los Angeles Dodgers.
For this issue and its focus on entrepreneurship, BusinessWest takes an in-depth look at an intriguing new venture, and how its founder is swinging for the fences — from a business perspective.
Working the Count
On a wall near a few of AP’s batting cages are two boards featuring a number of playing cards. Before taking their swings, hitters try to quickly find the cards as they are called out by one of the instructors.
“It’s an exercise designed to build eye-hand coordination,” said Fatse. “It helps gets your eyes loose, and for the younger players, it helps show that there’s things you can do without a bat in your hand.”
The playing-card exercise is one of many instructional tools used at AP, said Fatse, adding quickly that his business is not a baseball camp like many others conducted by current and past players. Nor is it a purely instructional facility, along the lines of the famous (or infamous) Tom Emanski videos hyped in those commercials on ESPN showing players trying to throw balls into barrels from the outfield to improve accuracy.
Instead, it is a business focused on the myriad aspects of developing scholar athletes, said Fatse, adding that this entrepreneurial venture was driven by a need he recognized — from both personal experience and watching dozens of young people, and their parents, struggle with the complicated process of entering, and then thriving in, professional baseball.
Fatse said his own career was typical of many players from the Northeast. He was a 24th round draft pick, which meant he was in many ways a long shot to make it to the major leagues, and he thrived in that underdog role.
“Getting into pro ball was something I always wanted to do,” he explained, “and I guess I had a knack for proving people wrong my whole life because I was undersized.”
He was drafted as a second baseman, but played mostly outfield in the minors, rising to what’s known as ‘high A ball’ with the Brewers and Double A with the Orioles.
He remembers all through his career that his family and coaches encouraged him to pursue a baseball career, but also be prepared for life after the game — whenever that transition was destined to occur. And he told BusinessWest that he always had some entrepreneurial tendencies and was in many respects ready for the day when he hung up his spikes.
“I had always done some lessons, some modest work with some of the local guys,” he explained. “But this past off season, I got an office and started putting together a business plan for something that would be different. I started to see how much I enjoyed doing this kind of thing, and I’m enjoying the transition into business.”
And when asked to describe that business, he said it’s a combination of a number of things, including technical instruction and, perhaps more importantly, mentorship.
“I always talked to my coach at UConn Jim Penders, who was an unbelievable coach,” he recalled. “I always liked his approach to how he did things, and it wasn’t until perhaps my fourth professional season that I realized the value of what he brought to the table. And I started thinking to myself that if I could bring some of that to the guys around here, at a younger age, I think it will help them out tremendously, especially those who want to pursue playing at the next level.”
As he mentioned earlier, AP is developing into a company focused on much more than technical instruction, although that’s a big part of the operation.
Fatse has plans to create programs designed for both athletes and their families, and on subjects ranging from how to handle the college-recruiting process to deciding if and when to turn pro.
Covering All the Bases
As he talked about the science of hitting a baseball, Fatse provided some insight into both the complexity of that task and the art of teaching people how to do it better.
“I try to work on their mental approach to hitting and utilize as much of their athleticism as possible,” he explained. “We want them to use their athleticism in a controlled swing pattern. How they do it — the rhythm techniques they use — vary, and that’s why we use video analysis so much. We like to look at what some of the best in the game are doing, and there are checkpoints in every swing that I try to replicate, such as with the hips and how the hands work.
“I didn’t have a fantastic approach until I really started learning how to hit in my third year in pro ball,” he went on, using his own experiences to get some of his points home. “I use the phrase ‘give a little to get a little’ — seeing pitches, seeing arm action, studying pitchers, and writing charts. The more I became aware of the mental part and how much being a student of the game mattered, the better I became.”
Overall, he said, there is a process to becoming a better player, one that focuses on both the mental and physical aspects of the game. And it is this process that is at the heart of AP’s business plan, which is still very much a work in progress.
But the building blocks are coming together, he told BusinessWest, adding that they are centered around helping those who come to AP’s facilities focus on what he called “complete player development.”
And by this he meant everything from what happens on the athletic field and in the classroom, to properly representing one’s community.
“Probably the most important thing I tell guys is that they’re representing a lot when they put that uniform on — themselves, their families, their school, their community — and it’s a privilege.”
Complete player development is what amounts to a business model for AP, one that Fatse believes is quite unique — in this region and nationally — and that’s why he’s confident that this venture will be a major league success.
Already, he’s drawing athletes from communities across this region, but also well outside it, with clients from Vermont, New Hampshire, and other regions of Massachusetts. The portfolio has grown mostly through word-of-mouth referrals, and he expects that process to continue and accelerate, especially as the company expands into other programs, such as the Rising Freshman initiative.
Meanwhile, there are growth opportunities from expanding into other sports, he said, listing lacrosse and hockey as possible additions to the roster.
“My vision is for a place where kids can come and get their work in, but also watch video, do their homework, and maybe meet with an academic advisor,” he said. “They could get their athletic training and academic work done in the same place, be around good, positive role models, and be the best they can be.”
Expert in His Field
In addition to the caps and baseballs in his office, Fatse is also working on a uniform collection for his conference room.
There are now three framed and on the walls — one of his from his UConn days, and one each from the Ahmed brothers, Mike and his older brother, Nick, currently in the Arizona Diamondbacks’ system.
They serve as reminders of what can happen when one can effectively blend hard work with determination, patience, the proper attitude, and sound decision-making.
These are things that Fatse will try to teach his clients — along with how to hit that curveball from a left-hander. It’s a business model he believes is loaded with potential, and one that will give him an opportunity to strike out on his own — this time in a very positive way.
George O’Brien can be reached at [email protected]