“I’ve been playing baseball since I was six,” recalled Manny Torres. “My passion has always been playing the game.”
While Torres always had enthusiasm, he also had talent. As a student at Bridgeport’s St. Joseph High School, his pitching won him the Connecticut Gatorade Player of the Year and USA Today Connecticut Player of the Year in 1995. At the University of Alabama, he played in three College World Series as a pitcher and was twice named as an All-American.
After college he played in the Cincinnati Reds’ minor league system, but in 2000 a severe shoulder injury required surgery and his dreams of professional baseball abruptly ended.
“I didn’t want anything to do with baseball for a long time,” Torres recalled, adding that his self-imposed exile from the game put him “in a really dark place.” Realizing that his life was missing the structure and discipline that baseball provided him, he decided to start a new chapter in helping young players pursue their sports dreams.
“I started getting into coaching by working with baseball clinics,” he said. “I fell in love with the game again.”
But unlike Torres’ experience of rising through the school baseball ranks, he recognized that many Bridgeport-area youth had limited opportunities to enjoy the game if they weren’t star players.
“In 2004 and 2005, I went around the parks and realized there were not a lot of kids playing baseball in July or August,” he explained. “If you weren’t on the Little League All-Star Team, you did not play. I wanted to start a developmental league for kids that didn’t make All-Stars and were home and not playing.”
This concept grew into Torres’ Technique Tiger Baseball Academy, which launched in 2005 with 60 kids divided between four teams that played each other on an in-house basis. Bridgeport’s Jewish Community Center offered Torres an unused field in the rear of its property for the summertime games, and allowed Torres and his youthful players to drill and practice inside during the autumn and winter months.
After the first year, things began to grow very quickly. “It just kind of bubbled into one travel team the following year, and (enrollment rose to) 85 and then 100,” he said. “Several years later, we had four travel teams.”
Torres eventually sought out his own facility. In August 2015 he leased a 12,000-square-foot space at 25 Lindeman Drive in Trumbull for indoor training, complete with 10 tunnels and three full mounds; he plans to expand later this year into a 1,200-square-foot space upstairs on the property. Outdoor training is held at Veterans Park in Bridgeport.
The Technique Tigers training program runs 11 months, from December to October. Sessions are held three days a week in the late afternoon and early evenings, and Torres relies on one full-time coach and 10 volunteer coaches to provide guidance.
The academy divides its teams by age, with 12 to 13 boys per team. Nine teams travel during the spring and summer, taking on baseball organizations throughout the state and in Long Island, Massachusetts and Delaware. “We’re looking to go to Virginia and Florida in the fall with a group of 18 year olds that we have,” Torres noted.
He recently added training for a girls’ softball team, which “gives us a diversity of athletes,” he said.
Torres stated that while training exercises focus on speed and agility, he also stresses to his players that baseball is a team sport and self-important attitudes have no place on the diamond. “We set the tone with our founding rules: listen, effort and respect,” he said. “Once we give them that spiel, the kids do a good job in policing themselves on that.”
Another aspect of the game that Torres emphasizes is the emotional reality that players cannot win every game. “Baseball is a tough sport,” he admitted. “You will fail a lot more than you will succeed. We do a lot of mental training and assure our players that they’re going to get frustrated, as well as showing them how to respond to that.”
Torres charges an annual fee of $2,600 for players aged 11 to 18 and $1,600 for those 10 and under. “It’s not bad,” he said. “We over-deliver. We practice three days a week, with the practice sessions from two to two-and-a-half hours, so we definitely give the parents the bang for the buck. I know a lot of local programs charge more and deliver less.”
Since he started coaching, Torres has watched some of his former students go on to play college ball at Cornell, Fordham and Norfolk State University. His most notable student is Matthew Batten, who is now playing in the Double-A team connected with the San Diego Padres.
As for himself, Torres said he is grateful for his second chance at the game and his efforts to help youngsters find their strength and sense of purpose. He cited a quote from the legendary Roberto Clemente as a daily reminder of his own value.
“I have this tattooed on my leg,” he said. “It says, ‘Any time you have an opportunity to make a difference in this world and you don’t, then you are wasting your time on Earth.’”