Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Can of Corn: Meet Michael Aicardi of SF Baseball Academy

Michael Aicardi shows off his fine swing between instructing classes at San Francisco Baseball Academy in the Dogpatch neighborhood in San Francisco, CA. 
Can of corn in baseball lingo means an easy catch, a no-brainer.  And that's what we thought when we heard that Michael Aicardi had opened a baseball academy in Dogpatch.  It only seemed to make sense that a great baseball town would have a facility to train future baseball players.

So we were surprised when we actually found out that not only is his academy the first of its kind in San Francisco, but also that San Francisco is no longer known for its homegrown baseball talent like it used to be -- do the names Joe DiMaggio, Lefty O'Doul or Tony Lazzeri sound familiar?

Although Dogpatch is within walking distance of AT&T Park, the area isn't exactly teaming with green playing fields.  But we do have a lot of warehouses.  And that is where we found Aicardi just finishing up a lesson to several young hopeful future Hall of Famers.

While we waited, we checked out the equipment and the space.  Aircardi appears to have spared no expense in setting up his academy and his players for success -- state of the art pitching machines stood at the ready as did the regulation height pitchers mound.  Nets, bats and cages were all the best quality.  Even the padding on the walls were the same regulation height as at a baseball field.

And then there is the overall look of the room:  the walls are painted light blue to make you feel like you are outside, the lighting feels like natural light and there are even park benches around the training area to make bystanders feel like they are at a ballpark.

Lesson finished, the happy students took their leave but not before the mother volunteered to us how grateful she was to not have to continue to drive out of the area to find this same high level of instruction.

Can of corn, indeed.
Michael Aicardi explains the finer points of baseball at San Francisco Baseball Academy in the Dogpatch neighborhood in San Francisco, CA. The academy offers instruction to youths from the area.
Why do you do what you do?

I was always a natural athlete so I played all the various sports.  I didn't focus exclusively on baseball though until I was a teenager.  I'm from an old San Francisco North Beach family so of course my Grandma called me Baseball Joe. 

My goal was never to play professionally but I did play Division One baseball in college.  As I started to focus on baseball it became clear that San Francisco was no longer a baseball town.  Playing fields are hard to find and those that are available are in bad shape.  Bad shape because soccer tends to dominate sports here and that sport can really tear up a field and create opportunities for injuries to baseball players.  And unlike players from nearby Bay Area cities, it is rare for a SF player to get a scholarship to play Division One college baseball.

So bringing baseball back to SF is one of the main reasons I started the academy.  But an equally important reason is to help future players avoid all the injuries that I endured.  I've already had eight surgeries and I will need more in the future.  I truly believe that I injured myself because I wasn't trained properly.

When I start training with a student, I don't care if they have the baseball player "look".  I want them to have the right form and mechanics so they don't get injured and can play for a long time.

A lot of areas of study use the "who, what, why, where and when" methodology and I think it is just as important in sports so I focus on that as I train young players.

Training players is an important focus for me but just as critical is training for the coach.  So often in schools the baseball coach is the dad who has some free time.  He might be an athlete as well but most likely not properly trained.  My goal is to also offer clinics for coaches.  Proper training of player and coach will certainly reduce potential injuries for the players.

Why Dogpatch?

I feel like SF Baseball Academy is a bit of an underdog -- not well known yet but with a lot of potential.  Dogpatch has that same feeling to me.  People here seem to attack what they do with passion so they can make a living from it.

On a practical level, it is great that I was able to find a place that is so easily accessible from all parts of SF.  The landlord has been very supportive in letting me create an indoor baseball environment.

Who is another fascinating person you have met in Dogpatch?

I recently met a fellow named Paul -- he has lots of great stories about this area and about baseball.  He was a liquor salesman so he knows a lot about the sport bars in this area.  He is well dressed but still a bit edgy -- kind of like Dogpatch.

What would you be doing if you weren't doing this?

Well, I'm from a family of professionals so I think at first I was expected to be a doctor or a lawyer.  And in college I did study communications and business.

But I knew at age 12 that I wanted to start a baseball academy in San Francisco.  So I'm finally doing what I was meant to do with my professional life. 

Article written by Patricia Kline
Photographs by Scott R. Kline

A San Francisco Giants bobblehead sits amongst a collection on the front desk at the San Francisco Baseball Academy in Dogpatch, San Francisco, CA.