Sandlot, Pro Staff Giving Local Baseball Players a Winter Home

Jeffrey Nepa practically lives at the Sandlot Baseball Academy in Scranton.

"I take pitching lessons on Saturdays," Nepa said. "I take hitting Sunday and Tuesday. I practice with my 10U team on Mondays."

He's here six days a week, taking advantage of every inch of this 26,000 square-foot facility. Six batting cages, four pitching mounds, a fielding area and even a weight room, music to the ears for owner Frank Cwalinski.

"Just the sound of the ball hitting the bat and stuff like that, it just makes you happy if you're a baseball guy," Cwalinski said.

Everyone here certainly is. They've stuck with Sandlot through four moves in a decade, but it's not about where, it's about when. They're open seven days a week, all year-round.

"Not all players have this chance to practice all year-round," Nepa said. "It's just great to get more swings in during the winter. It's a great privilege."

"if a place like this was around when i was younger, i would live here," Cwalinski said.

Playing baseball in NEPA really has to be a labor of love, especially this time of year. It's the same story at Pro Staff Baseball, which moved to this new facility in Taylor this winter. Pro Staff has just what its name implies - a professional staff. Ron Chiavacci and over a dozen more former Major Leaguers are paying it forward, giving the next generation of ball players a baseball home.

"It's played a major role in what got me to where i got to," Chiavacci said. "So, the winter time is when you get ready. You don't get ready in the spring. You get ready for the spring."

James Brown has been coming to Pro Staff since he was 12. Now twice that age, the former North Pocono and Wilkes outfielder played in Europe last year and it's earned him a tryout with the Detroit Tigers next week. Guess how it happened.

"Just having (Ron Chiavacci) as a connection was very humbling and i'm very grateful for it, just being here, working hard every day, having a place like this. If i was a kid, I would kill for this. It's awesome. This is like a paradise if you want to be an athlete."

It's helped Brown and who knows? With so many resources in town, maybe Nepa will get his chance someday, too.

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