TRUMBULL — Manny Torres’ last shot at making the big time had come and gone. A second torn labrum had ended that dream, and for a long time afterward, Torres was down. Down on baseball.
But slowly, his mindset began to change. The game had been his life since he started playing back in Little League. He played high school ball at St. Joseph, college ball at Alabama as a pitcher, going to the College World Series three times.
Torres had injured his shoulder in his junior year with the Crimson Tide. Just two years later, while working his way through Class A ball with the Cincinnati Reds organization, Torres blew out his arm again.
But he couldn’t stay down forever. He loved the game too much, and he had to be involved in baseball in some way. And on those summer days when he would drive around to places like Seaside Park in Bridgeport and see empty baseball fields, he started to think about what he could do to get kids playing baseball again.
To that end, Torres created Technique Sports Training and the Technique Tigers Future Stars Baseball Academy. For the past five years, the Bridgeport resident has been working with kids ages 6 to 18, teaching them the game of baseball.
“I decided to start a summer-fall program and we focused on kids that didn’t make all-stars between ages 8 to 12, and then it expanded to travel ball teams in the spring,” Torres said during a morning practice with the Technique Tigers at St. Joseph High School. “We started with 52 kids the first year, and then the following year, we added a travel team of 15 kids. That grew into four travel teams and now we’re at six travel teams (85 kids) and 120 kids in the academy.”
The travel teams, for players 12 to 18, play from April to mid-August. The academy, for players 6 to 12, runs from late-August to mid-October. That focuses on development.
“I’m huge on repetition. I believe in that,” said Torres, who went 21-4 in his career at Alabama with 211 strikeouts in 237 2/3 career innings. “I believe that kids are going to get better through practice. Games are for entertaining the parents and making sure that the kids are progressing, but skill-wise, it’s all about practice. In a game, a shortstop might get two or three ground balls, but in practice, we’ll hit him 80 to 100 ground balls a day.
“I have this thing that I call the triangle of success: step one is preparation, step two is success, and once that they have some of that, then three, they build confidence. Once the confidence comes, that’s when the game becomes fun.”
The game was sure fun when Torres played. He was the 1995 Gatorade State Player of the Year and a two-time all-state selection in ’94 and ’95. At Alabama, he was named to the 1999 National Collegiate Baseball Writers third team (a couple of first-team members were Ben Sheets and Barry Zito), and he pitched against Miami in the ’99 CWS in Omaha, Neb.
He signed a free-agent deal with the Reds, starting in rookie ball in Billings, Mont., going 1-1 with a 3.48 ERA, before moving up to A ball in Rockford, Ill., where he had Adam Dunn as a teammate. But when he tore his labrum again, baseball was over.
For a while, anyway.
“I had been back here in Bridgeport for around 18 months and one day I went to the mall and Ed Pikor was there at Frozen Ropes (Training Center). I told him who I was and I told him I wanted to get into coaching. He remembered who I was, so I started out with Ed at Frozen Ropes,” Torres said. “I coached at Greens Farms Academy, then I went to Fairfield Legion with Ed, moved to Trumbull Legion as a pitching coach, I came here (St. Joe’s) for a year as pitching coach, was at Central High School as a pitching coach. And then I said, `You know what? I want to start my own program.'”
So he did.
“I just realized that until fall baseball comes around, the kids who weren’t playing all-stars weren’t playing at all. We had to do something for those kids,” he said. “Little League has 200 kids. They have two all-star teams. That’s 30 kids. What happens to the other 170 kids? It was up to me to go out and say `this is who I am,’ and by word of mouth, we’re up to 200 kids now in the program.”
And they come from all over. Torres has kids from Staples, Bunnell, McMahon, Notre Dame of Fairfield, Trumbull, St. Joseph, Bullard-Havens, Shelton and Central high schools, just to name a few.
“That’s something that I really like about our program … we have kids from all different ethnic backgrounds, kids from all different towns, kids from the suburbs, kids from the inner city, kids that live in mansions, kids that live in the projects,” Torres said. “They all come together and learn from each other.”