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Playing the field: Minor-league player sees future in baseball, softball training facility

Sunday, February 19, 2006

The academy features a large playing surface, cages, a soft-toss area, a long-toss area and a lounge/waiting area.

The way Talley Haines has things figured, once he's done playing sports for a living, he'll still be able to make his living through sports.

That was the idea behind the new business venture of Haines and his wife, Jackie, Prospects Sports Academy, which opened in early December in rural Jackson.

"I was wondering if getting in the business world was something I was up to, but I'm pretty happy I did it," said Haines, a Jackson resident who will soon begin his ninth season in professional baseball as a minor-league relief pitcher. "I'm pleased with the way things are going so far.

"This is something that I think, when I'm done playing, I can maybe do this full time as my career."

Prospects Sports Academy is an indoor baseball and softball training facility at 9727 U.S. 61, about three miles north of Fruitland.

The academy features more than 11,000 square feet, a FieldTurf playing surface, cages, mounds, a soft-toss area, a long-toss area and a lounge/waiting area for parents. Baseball- and softball-related items are available for purchase.

"FieldTurf is the kind of surface several major-league teams use, and also lot of college and professional football teams," Haines said. "It was pretty expensive, but it was worth it. It's really a great playing surface."

Haines said the academy -- open Monday, Tuesday, Thursday and Friday from 3 p.m. to 9 p.m., Saturday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., Sunday from noon to 5 p.m. and Wednesday by appointment -- is available to both individuals and groups at various price ranges.

"This is really designed for two different groups of people in mind, kids [boys and girls] working on their game who maybe want to eventually play in high school and college, and adults who just want to have a good time," Haines said. "We've had entire adult softball teams come in."

The entire facility can be rented out by the hour by larger groups, while individuals and smaller groups can rent the cages and other work stations.

Instruction is also available from not only Haines but Todd Pennington, a former Southeast Missouri State All-American pitcher who also currently competes in the minor leagues.

"We've got three pitching machines for baseball and softball," Haines said. "That's big, because most kids' arms aren't really ready yet."

Haines, 29, played baseball and basketball at Cape Girardeau Central High School, graduating in 1995.

He played two years of baseball at Southeast Missouri State and one year at Freed-Hardeman University in Tennessee before being drafted in the 25th round by the Tampa Bay Devil Rays in 1998.

Haines has already played eight seasons of professional baseball for four organizations (Tampa Bay, Toronto, Boston and the Chicago Cubs), and he has played at the Triple A level for parts of the past six seasons.

During this past offseason, Haines signed a minor league contract with the St. Louis Cardinals and will soon report to spring training. Despite several strong minor league campaigns, he has not yet reached the majors -- but he's not about to give up on his dream.

"I still have a good time playing, and experiencing different things like competing [for the United States] in last year's Baseball World Cup," Haines said. "I want to keep playing for a while.

"My big goal is still to get to the majors. If I knew I wasn't going to ever get there, I might stop playing, because it's been hard for me and my wife to be apart. But right now I want to keep going."

Haines' wife Jackie, a former Southeast Missouri State volleyball player, is the volleyball coach at Jackson High School. She will continue to keep Prospects Sports Academy open after Haines reports to spring training in early March, then join her husband in whatever city he plays the season.

"By that time, the weather will be nice and people can get outside, so it will be about time to shut down for the year anyway," Haines said.

Haines said he had thought about opening this kind of facility for several years before finally deciding to take the plunge.

"My dad [longtime Southeast Missouri State track coach Joey Haines] and I talked about it for a long time," Haines said. "I've given lessons on and off for a while, and it got to the point where I didn't have the place to give them like I wanted.

"It's always something I wanted to do anyway, so I just thought I'd go ahead and do it."

So far, so good. Not only has business been going well, after something of a slow start, but Haines plans to eventually open the facility to athletes involved in sports other than baseball and softball.

"Next year we maybe plan on having a dodgeball league. We have the space. We can have football workouts here," Haines said. "Some people have mentioned indoor soccer, which is really big. Right now we're not planning on it, but it might be something for the future.

"Business started out kind of slow, with it being early in the basketball season, but now that it's getting closer to spring, things have picked up. We're drawing people from all over Southeast Missouri, and even surrounding areas. I'm really happy so far."

For more information on the facility, call 587-5343, or visit www.prospectssportsacademy.com


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