Sport

Have bat, will travel

Former Venice High star and major-leaguer Jack Voigt opens his own hitting school, 941 Diamond Academy

Twelve-year-old Steel had a swing which was too long. By the time he got his bat moving, the baseball often was past him.

Sometimes, it still happens.

“We’re still trying to get away from that and get a short swing,” said Steel, who shares his name with his father. One of his sisters is named Sterling.

Indeed, some heavy metal.

The same problem affected Noah. A long swing. A loopy cut would have the 13-year-old stepping outside the batter’s box for a short mental inventory.

“If I do a bad swing,” he said, “I like to step out of the box, regroup myself, think of what I’m trying to do right and then I try to do what I’m thinking about doing right.”

That’s a lot of thinking in just a few moments. Noah, has it helped?

“Yes and no. Yes, because it’s hard to get out of a habit, but it was kind of easy for me because I got it really quickly.”

A long swing isn’t Maddox’s main issue. If the 12-year-old has one, it’s a tendency to shift his weight too quickly to his front foot, sapping his power.

“I need to stay back,” Maddox said.

To eliminate their specific hitting hiccups, Steel Williams Jr., Noah Zachodny and Maddox Volk have enlisted the help of Venice High School favorite son Jack Voight, whose major-league statistics belie his knowledge of how to consistently hit a baseball.

Voigt can’t guarantee he will raise your average 30 points or your home run total by 10. But what he will do is similar to what the best hitting coaches try to do with their students.

Get them to know themselves.

“Get them to understand their swing so well,” Voigt said, “that they become their own best hitting coach. The swing and the player have to work as one. You’ve got to work at it. You have to practice it. You just can’t come once a week for a 30-minute lesson and expect to get better. There has to be a commitment.”

The 54-year-old Voigt, who played seven seasons in the big leagues, for the Orioles, Rangers, Brewers and A’s, before embarking on a coaching career which lasted from 2001 through 2017, hopes players serious about bettering their hitting enlist him for a lesson.

Voigt began giving lessons while still in the majors, and for some time he provided them through JVoigt Baseball while leasing space at Sarasota’s Extra Innings.

But when Extra Innings owner Jeff Howard told Voigt a year ago his future plans would center on the Florida International Baseball Academy and its learning component, Elevation Prep Academy, Voigt realized he’d have to find somewhere else to go.

“And it’s always been kind of a dream,” he said, “to start my own place and academy and a serious place for the serious players to get better.”

The result is 941 Diamond Academy (6270 Clarity Court in Sarasota), a 5,680-square-foot facility with five batting cages, two pitching mounds and an owner who wants to attract the players and teams serious about improving their skills.

A sign on the door leading to the cages expresses as much: “Enter cages here only if you want to get better.”

“The best players I was around were the ones who always listened,” Voigt said, “they were always trying to get better, they were always trying to find ways to improve their game and that’s kind of where I learned my teaching philosophy.

“It’s a mix of old school and new school. The (computers) can’t tell you how to fix something. They can tell you what you just did, but you still got to have people to understand it and use it correctly and be able to get your players to understand what it is.”

Voigt’s facility, tastefully decorated, right down to two of his brown bats serving as legs for a small ledge, allows him a place to give his lessons.

He hopes 941 Diamond Academy, through JVoigt Baseball, attracts those interested in personal instruction, as well as players wanting a place to hone their skills on their own.

“If they take lessons, that’s great,” he said. “But I am helping them to develop their product.” Voigt also works with softball players who have Division I commitments.

John Zachodny brought Noah to 941 Diamond Academy after seeing improvements as coach in several of his players who worked with Voigt.

“I saw the proof was in the pudding,” Zachodny said. “I saw the kids swinging the bat much better and having a lot more results. I’m good fundamentally and with the beginning steps, but when you want advanced learning, you go and find the best.”

941 Baseball Academy opened earlier this month. While Total Baseball Academy and Square Up Academy also exist in the area, “there is really nothing in this area,” Voigt said.

But it’s not without risk. Fulfilling a dream costs money and Voigt has around $60,000 invested in his facility. “This is basically me, myself and half my IRA.”

Voigt expects results, as do his students. Steel Williams Jr was asked how long he planned to stay with his hitting teacher.

“As long as it takes. And if we see more results.”

Reach Jack Voigt at 941 Diamond Academy at (941) 203-5763. Contact 941 Diamond Academy and JVoigt Baseball through Facebook and Twitter. 941 Diamond Academy also is on Instagram.

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