Swinging for the fences: DeKalb training facility offers data-driven baseball assessments

DeKalb training facility offers data-driven baseball assessments

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DeKALB – Ryan Johansen just wants kids to believe they can actually make it to the baseball big leagues.

Johansen, 28, owner and founder of Johansen Baseball Inc., opened his second data-driven baseball training facility in November in DeKalb. The 6,000-square-foot facility at 1292 S. Seventh St. offers athletes of all ages – from aspiring Little Leaguers to semi-pro college athletes who have their sites set on Major League Baseball – a unique and intense array of assessments designed to improve a player’s hitting, pitching and throwing.

“What started as [me] being able to stay around the game and give lessons turned into an opportunity to be a leader in the industry, and research player development tools and strategies,” Johansen said. “We’re one of very few facilities that integrate all the technology that we have.”

And the technology is quite a lot.

Johansen Baseball, which has another location in South Elgin, uses a mix of motion-capture sensors, high-speed cameras, HitTrax baseball sensors and velocity recording devices for pitchers, all to provide the player with a better idea of their strengths, weaknesses and areas of improvement.

Johansen lives in Elburn with his wife, Delani (who teaches softball at the business), and children Braden, 7, and Olliver, 2. He played college baseball at the University of Pittsburgh-Greensburg, and coached at Aurora University, Judson University and Top Tier Baseball LLC based out of Chicago. He said his drive comes from a desire to inspire kids to aim high.

“I really want to be the coach I never had,” Johansen said, quick to point out that none of his coaches were “bad per se.”

“I just want to offer a different environment that allows kids to really be challenged to go after their goals,” he said. “I think a lot of times in baseball you hear parents say ‘They’re not gonna make it to the majors, or play college, or get a scholarship,’ and the likelihood of that is probably correct. But I think kids get a lot out of making a goal, working toward it. If you never try, you’re never gonna know.”

On Monday morning, 22-year-old Kevin Brandt was in the DeKalb batting cages at Johansen Baseball, testing his swing with Johansen behind the controls.

“I’m getting ready to go play college baseball in La Crosse [Wisconsin],” Brandt said as he prepped for the assessment.

Johansen affixed Brandt’s bat with a special Blast Motion sensor to measure swing data. With each left-handed swing of Brandt’s bat following an underhanded pitch from Johansen, the sensor captured metrics that will help Brandt become a better-informed hitter.

“It measures bat speed, attack angle, swing angle, your time to contact and how fast you rotate,” Johansen said.

A simulation screen along the wall outside the batting cage projects a sunny AT&T park in San Francisco, which Johansen said he chose for Brandt because it’s better for lefties.

“Really, what the data is for is to have more information to be able to give your players the best opportunity to improve themselves while taking the guess work out of it,” Johansen said. He said it’s important for coaches to be able to provide “practical use” feedback to players.

Brandt also was set up for what Johansen calls kinematic sequence technology, which offers a four-dimensional look at Brandt’s body as he swings, using sensors placed on his chest, lead hip, elbow and bat. Johansen can look at the 4-D image of Brandt on an iPad after each swing.

“We attract [aspiring college or pro-baseball players] because of their goals,” Johansen said. “They’re clear on that they want to make the varsity team, want to play professional.”

Younger players don’t miss out on the action, though. Johansen Baseball also offers assessments and classes for beginner, intermediate and high school players.

“The younger kids love the intimate feedback and competitive environment,” Johansen said.

He hopes to encourage retired athletes to join him as coaches at Johansen Baseball, and continues to take his assessments on the road to provide player evaluations at all skill levels.

Prices vary for skill level and type of assessment, but begin at $400 a month for beginners ($60 for the initial fee), or for the college and pro athletes, a $200 initial fee and a monthly cost at the time of assessment.