Youth Baseball | General | 8/15/2019

Youth Ball Bonds Pirro Family

Blake Dowson        
Photo: Park Sharon 10u (Perfect Game)
Michael Pirro started to get involved with Sportszone, a travel ball group in upstate New York, as a way to spend more time with his son, Matt, who was starting to play travel ball.

Pirro, a former professional ball player and scout, knew Sportszone was “the” travel ball team in the area, and knew that Matt, with his 90 mph fastball, had aspirations of playing Division I baseball after he graduated high school in 2011.

Matt said his dad was invaluable to him throughout his travel ball days.

“We did everything together, and spent a ton of time at it,” he said. “I was really fortunate to go around and travel and play, and he was really involved with the program I grew up in, and I eventually ended up playing for him in that program…He’s someone I always relied on for not only baseball stuff, but life stuff. Those memories we have from my travel ball days, it’s what we still talk about today.”

The entire roster of that 18u Sportszone Chiefs team was stacked full of Division I prospects, and the results showed it. They went 5-1 at the Northeast Father’s Day Invitational, 5-2 at the WWBA 18u National Championship, and they advanced to the final four at the 18u BCS Finals.

In total, 11 players on the team committed to Division I programs, including Matt, who spent his college career at Wake Forest. According to Michael, it was their tireless work ethic that got them there.

“That was a very, very talented group of kids…A lot of those guys were actually multi-sport athletes, but they always took time for baseball,” he said. “They took lessons year-round. It was a really close-knit group. They always pushed for each other. We would always travel together to different tournaments, maybe one other set of parents would come along. It was just one big passenger van and we would travel all around.”

Michael stayed on and coached with Sportszone for a couple more years after Matt graduated and went off to Wake Forest, where he eventually became the Deamon Decon’s Friday night starter and a 21st round draft choice of the Washington Nationals.

Michael’s job took him to Florida eventually, where he coached another travel ball team, before moving one more time to Charlotte, where he started giving private hitting lessons to youth players.

“My passion is teaching. I take pride in teaching the game the right way and having a positive influence on the kids,” he said. “It’s a very hands-on approach. I know at this level, players all mature at a different pace. They process information differently. So I think as coaches it’s our responsibility to break instruction down to a level where they can understand it. It might take you 12 times to explain something but that 12th time something clicks and boom, you have success.”

A father of one of the kids approached Michael at one point and asked if he would be interested in coaching a 10u team in the Park Sharon Athletic Association, and Michael, forever a coach and teacher of the game, agreed.

Teaching such a young age group has plenty of contrasts to the group he coached in New York with Matt and his buddies, but there are things he enjoys more about it, Michael said.

That past experience of coaching elite-level prep players is beneficial to him now, as he often points to that group when he is with his 10u team as an example of how they need to work and prepare to be as good as they can possibly be.

“I’m taking my past experiences with that older group,” Michael said. “And I’m trying to teach these younger kids that in order to play at a high level, you need to work hard, that there are no shortcuts, and I’m trying to develop the mindset in them that in order to compete at the highest level, we’re going to have to execute on all the little things we practice during the week, and I want them to be held accountable. By doing those things, the winning just takes care of itself.”

In 2017, Matt moved to Charlotte. A shoulder injury popped up while he was in the Nationals organization and he elected not to have surgery, instead deciding to try something else.

That wasn’t baseball for a while. The injury left a sour taste in his mouth, according to Matt. He didn’t want much to do with the game. But his dad was giving hitting lessons regularly, and his passion for the game rubbed off on Matt.

He started giving lessons of his own, and he got the bug again. A few lessons turned into a pretty full slate of lessons, and eventually he jumped on with the Park Sharon 10u team, coaching right alongside his dad.

“It’s a lot of fun. It’s truly kept me in Charlotte longer than I thought I would be, just because I love being able to get out there and coach with [my dad],” he said. “He has more passion for the game of baseball than anyone I’ve ever met…To be able to get out there on a field almost every day with him is awesome.”

Behind the tutelage of both Michael and Matt, the Park Sharon Nationals 10u squad has found a ton of success. The team is currently ranked No. 36 in Perfect Game’s 10u travel ball rankings, going 4-2 at the 2019 PG 10u World Series in Marietta, Georgia in June.

The hitting lessons are apparently working for the team, as they put up at least 10 runs in each of its first four games at the 10u World Series, including 20 in its first game.

It’s a professional-style approach that Michael brings to the youth team he coaches. His players all made a commitment to him to work hard in practice, and in turn Michael made a promise to help each kid achieve whatever goals they may have on the baseball field.

“We tell the boys that we’re not just another travel team. We run a very intense, college-style practice,” he said. “Our guys get anywhere from 75 to 100 ground balls and fly balls at practice, 50 to 100 swings. But it isn’t a focus on quantity, it’s a focus on quality. Whether it’s your approach to a ground ball, baserunning, defensive situations, or hitting mechanics.”

Having Michael and Matt on board has been beneficial to the Park Sharon program. They will move up in age group next season with the same group of kids to the 11u level and so on year after year.

The youth level was the right move for Matt, according to him. The pressure of professional baseball can weigh on you, and an injury can sink you.

Getting back to the roots of baseball, and remembering what makes the game so fun, has brought his passion for the game back to the surface.

“When I finished playing in 2017 and moved down to North Carolina, I didn’t really have a great taste for baseball in my mouth, with how it all ended for me getting hurt,” Matt said. “But after a few months of being down here and being around [my dad] with him coaching and doing his lessons, I started to do some on my own and started to realize how much I missed the game…Working with different age groups, I fell in love with the younger ages. They’re so impressionable and you can really make an impact on them…Seeing the joy in them when something clicks is just unmatched in my opinion.”

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