Photos provided by Burke Bulldogs and Josh Belanger.
This article is part of a series highlighting different organizations within NVTBL. Click here to read past feature articles. We will be posting new articles each week.
“Warm up, form up, time up, game up.”
The phrase is the blueprint behind the practice plans for all nine teams in the Burke Bulldogs organization and is the foundation of success for current and former players in the organization.
Originating from a modified practice plan from the Robinson Rams program and exercises from expert trainers at the Advanced Baseball training facility, the Bulldogs have developed a unique routine that incorporates a dynamic warm-up, focuses on proper mechanics, and helps build muscle memory that gets the most out of its players at gametime.
Co-founder Charlie Jumper first began working with Advanced Baseball by taking his son, Tyler, to pitching lessons with Steve Johnson, a performance analyst at Advanced Baseball. Johnson has worked with youth, college and Major Leaguer players and co-authored "The Art & Science of Pitching" with Dr. Tom House. Word spread and enough players from the organization were going to the facility to train where Advanced Baseball became a sponsor for the Bulldogs and coaches began integrating the drills and exercises into practice.
Johnson has also helped contribute to the program’s annual arm care seminar for everyone in the organization. The program focuses and stresses arm care for each of their players and provides players and parents the information needed to properly take care of their arm, regardless of position.
The impact of Johnson’s expertise and the concerted effort towards arm care has led to a program with pitchers who fill up the strike zone, players who can zips throws across the diamond and very few arm injuries.
“You could tell who was going to Steve Johnson and who wasn’t when they got into the game. The indicators are there,” Jumper said. “Is that going to translate as the kids get older? Most likely because the seminar and clinics we have done with the Bulldogs families help them understand how to take care of their arms.”
Rich Munson has been coaching in the Bulldogs organization for three seasons and has not had an arm injury to date. Ben Schull also has not had any arm injuries in his six seasons of coaching and recently took his Bulldogs’ team to the big field, where he has seen the most impact.
“We are seeing similar results as Rich. The team I manage now, at 14u, have stronger arms than some of the other kids we have seen and we generally have better pitching. We typically don’t have any arm issues,” Schull said.
For Jumper and the Bulldog coaches, it all goes back to the foundational work put in at practice on a consistent basis. With little to no turnover each season, the process becomes a routine to where players habitually warm-up properly and learn to take care of their arms. Over time, throwing strikes become second nature and the transition to the big field doesn’t appear as daunting.
“It’s like muscle memory. When you show up an hour before the game, we don’t need a coach there. They already know what to do to get everything ready to go and when it comes to the game, you have already done all the proper mechanics by warming up and timing up,” Jumper said. “If you are out of sink with your sequencing, you can be inaccurate or it can lead to injury. The whole point is to get to unconscious confidence, the final stage of muscle memory.”
The majority of the Bulldogs play for the Fairfax National All-Star teams and eventually tryout for the team at Robinson. By using the success of those teams as a measuring stick for the organization, recent appearances in the Virginia State Tournament for Fairfax National and VHSL Regional tournament appearances for the Rams speak for themselves. In July, the Majors team from Fairfax National won the District 10 title and finished runner-up in the state final.
The success of Bulldogs’ players also extend beyond the high school level to include five players from the inaugural team plus several other that have gone on to play collegiately. Tyler Jumper and Andrew Suppa played on the inaugural team and are still teammates today at Christopher Newport University. Kevin Kelly, who also played on the inaugural team, was recruited to play at James Madison and was drafted this summer by the Cleveland Indians.
Based on the local demand, the Bulldogs will extend the program's age options and introduce an 8u team this fall for the first time. The expansion of teams along with the ongoing support has allowed the Bulldogs to extend the development range and better prepare their players for the road ahead.
“We focus on fostering the love for the game more than wins and losses, especially at the younger age groups. We try to have well-rounded players where we develop them at multiple positions,” Munson said. “We are refining and finding what our best practices are to pass from one team to the next to allow for a path from 8-18u. Even though we don’t have teams up to 18u, we are trying to think of the development of these kids in that way. What should they be doing at 8u, 9u, and all the way up.”
As Jumper begins to transition the reigns to the next group of coaches, the challenge is passing along over a decade of knowledge he has obtained in his position. Despite the change in new leadership, the groundwork established over the last decade in the organization will enable coaches and players to continue to learn the game of baseball the Bulldog way.
“None of this would have been possible without Charlie Jumper. He loves the game, he loves kids.,” Schull said. “It’s not easy trying to tie it all together. We have been able to continue this with people who want to help, contribute and get involved. Charlie started it and we have been able to continue what he started.”
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