INDIAN TRAIL — Union County has developed into a hotbed for baseball talent, with local high schools combining to win five state championships in the past eight years. Since 2015, seven pitchers from the County have been drafted by Major League Baseball.
On Deck Academy, which focuses on skill development while also fielding travel teams for serious youth baseball players, seeks to capitalize on the steady abundance of baseball talent that flows through UC by opening a satellite location at 105 Corporate Dr. In Indian Trail.
The 5,100-square-foot facility opened its doors to the public for the first time on Monday (July 13). Mark Mennitt has been appointed Director of Teams in Union County. Mennitt said Union County plans to field On Deck teams in five age divisions this Fall, starting with 10-and-under and ranging up to the high school level.
“It’s a lot of training, lessons, camps, individual and group training,” said Mennitt, when describing what members of the On Deck Academy do throughout the year. Mennitt is best known in Union County for being the head coach of the Marvin Ridge High baseball teams that won back-to-back 3A state titles in 2015 and 2016. Mennitt has since retired from the state as a teacher, but his luster for baseball remains.
“I love it,” Mennitt said, referring to his new role with On Deck. “It’s great. It’s baseball in its purest form.”
It costs $25 for a player to try out for On Deck. The cost for playing a season of travel baseball, which includes out-of-state tournaments, can range between $800 and $1,400, according to Mennitt.
The coaches are well established. Mennitt said he will coach On Deck’s 11-and-under Union County team this Fall, Brad Elwood will coach the 12u team and John Jimenez will be in charge of the 13u team.
Elwood broke the state record when he recorded 25 doubles for Piedmont High in 2010, and he also had a productive career for the Charlotte 49ers, hitting .308 in 168 college games.
Jimenez has coached locally at Sun Valley and Marvin Ridge High Schools. Trey Putman, currently the head baseball coach at Marvin Ridge High, is also involved with On Deck. The two older On Deck teams will be based out of Marvin, and Putman has several coaches participating, including Mike Ladka, Jay Fish, Marc Pacella and Cam Hill.
“We have a bunch of good coaches,” Mennitt said. “I do miss the high school age and the high school kids, but these kids really bring you back to your days as a child and what you went through as a kid. There’s a pureness to it. Anything can happen at any moment.”
Mike Shildt, who was the head baseball coach at West Charlotte, opened On Deck Academy’s first location in Charlotte about 20 years ago. Shildt is now the manager of the St. Louis Cardinals.
The Hill brothers, who played for Shildt in high school, now co-own On Deck. After a tornado destroyed their location last Fall, they opened a new facility in June of 2020 at 8220 England Street in Charlotte. Jason and Kevin Hill played college baseball together at UNC Charlotte.
Kevin Hill explained their business decision to expand On Deck Academy into Union County.
“We have been very fortunate to develop some wonderful relationships with several rec leagues and school programs in Union County over the years, and as a result, we have worked with hundreds of families and players from Union County,” Kevin Hill said in an email to The Enquirer-Journal. “Union County has a great baseball tradition and it is a talent-rich area. We felt it was important to embed our program more directly in the Union County community and give more players a chance to grow and develop in a successful program that prides itself on doing things the right way.”
Among the On Deck alumni who have made it to Major League Baseball includes Daniel Bard, who pitched for the Boston Red Sox from 2009-13.
“My years at On Deck provided me with some of the best memories in baseball,” Bard said at ondeckacademy.com. “On Deck helped prepare me in many ways to be successful at higher levels. They instill a deep passion for the game of baseball in all their players through hard word and is one of the first programs of it’s kind in Charlotte and paved the way for many like it by putting Charlotte amateur baseball on the map.”
“We have an unrivaled track record for developing players and we are proud of everything the kids who graduate our program go on to accomplish at the college and professional levels,” Jason Hill said in an email to The E-J. “We pride ourselves on teaching the game, promoting the importance of team, and we always keep the best interest of our players at the forefront of our thoughts and actions. We believe our program benefits young people in many different ways and we want to make a difference. The vibrant growth in the area, along with the proximity to so many schools and recreation programs in and around Indian Trail, make it a natural fit for us to open a new location. We are very excited to have the opportunity to reach more players who have the desire to maximize their ability and learn how to play the game the right way.”
Mennitt’s son, Sam, played in the On Deck program. Mennitt said the experience goes deeper than baseball.
“On Deck not only helps them develop their skills through repetition and instruction, it also helps develop them by helping them grow as people and mentoring them. What baseball has meant to me and my family, On Deck lines up with. It helps with the development of kids and puts them in a place to become not only good players but good people. … It’s expensive for a kid to play baseball, but you have to look at the value and what your kid is getting from it. If you don’t think see the value, then it’s not worth it.”
Mennitt said On Deck teams practice two to three times a week in addition to individual skill work. Specialized sessions are held depending on your position. “It’s a variety of stuff,” Mennitt said.
He considers On Deck an ideal opportunity for the year-round baseball player.
“I am still a believer in kids playing multiple sports,” Mennitt said. “We have a lot of baseball only guys, but I think it’s healthy to develop your body with different sports. For the baseball guy who knows exactly what he wants to do, this is the right place.”