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Changing Lives, Not Just Games

Zoned Sports Academy Trains Ballplayers and Their Coaches, Too

Sometimes the heart is willing, but the learning curve is steep. Enter Zoned Sports Academy, which not only helps young athletes excel, but also the relatives and guardians who coach them.

“About 20 percent have never even played the game,” explains Zoned’s CEO and co-founder Malcom “Duke” Baxter III. “And around 38 percent haven’t coached before. It’s amazing they’re donating their time. So we’re trying to help people volunteer for something they may not be good at or have never done.” 

Baxter is well-poised to coach the coaches. He was a pre-season All-American at what is now Florida Community College at Jacksonville, where he tied the all-time-hits record with 172 across two years. He then played at the University of North Florida, setting the NCAA record with 31 doubles in a single season. 

Next, he spent three years in the minor leagues, first with a now-defunct Wisconsin team (Madison Black Wolf, where he was 1997’s rookie of the year) and then as a utility infielder for the Somerset Patriots. “Since I was six years old, I had a dream to make it to the big leagues,” he says. “While that dream passed me by, I have dedicated my personal and professional life to helping players of all ages, skill levels and body types reach their ultimate potential.” 

He holds patents for baseball and softball training aids and co-wrote the book Taking on the Title of COACH. Baxter also teaches through Zoned’s online program Dominate the Diamond. Its app conveys skills like how to create practice plans, run those sessions and teach throwing, hitting and fielding. 

The advice stretches from the physical to the psychological, “the stuff no one ever talks about” like dealing with irate parents and kids throwing their helmets. And sometimes it even means overriding interjections screamed from the stands. “That’s the kind of stuff that makes coaching fun, but very challenging,” he notes. 

Recently, Baxter and his team began traveling to teach hands-on workshops for rookie coaches, including some in Maryland and Virginia.

For in-person clinics and training sessions back home, Zoned has welcomed kids to its baseball and softball training ground in Bridgewater since 2002. It boasts a 28,000-square-foot facility, including two full-sized playing fields, nine batting cages and a pro shop. It acquired a Proteus workout machine that tests balance, strength and power. Launched in 2018, this system allows athletes to train and rehabilitate with “3D” resistance, instead of less fluid and integrated movements like squats or bench presses. 

Each winter, the academy does pre-season training for 32 high school softball and baseball teams. “That’s always super fun,” Baxter says. It has also launched Baseball Buddies, a program that lets Little Leaguers trod the turf of pro fields and get autographs from superstar players. Last year, the kids visited the Somerset Patriots’ dugout before the team faced off against the New York Yankees, welcomed the players to the field and stood beside them during the national anthem. 

Zoned doesn’t stop when the school year does. Instead it welcomes sports fans to summer camps, running Monday to Thursday, 9 a.m. to 1:30 p.m., from the last week in June until the first week of August. “We have baseball and softball programs in different locations,” Baxter explains. “We give motivational talks, bring out special guests and run drills and skills. Then there’s competitions, challenges like water balloons and home run derbies, lunch and all that good stuff. Some weeks are outside and some are inside.” Students can sign up on a weekly basis, though the academy offers discounts for enrolling in multiple sessions. 

Baxter is also proud of their new nonprofit, which launched in 2023: the Diamond Dreams Foundation. It now funds scholarships for college-bound players, as well as helping underfunded Little League programs and kids who can’t afford to join the academy’s teams.

“We’re working hard here,” he says. “We’re educating, motivating and inspiring players of all ages and skill levels every day.”

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