Milt Thompson has performed virtually every job during his 41 years of professional baseball, and the former Phillies player and coach has a new challenge with a new team.
Thompson, an outfielder for the 1993 Phillies National League championship team and the hitting coach for the 2008 World Series champions, is the head coach of the newly formed Scanzano Sports and Performance Academy in Cherry Hill.
“What I like most about this is working with kids who are serious about baseball,” Thompson said.
Run by brothers John and Mike Scanzano, this will be what they term an “academy” program designed for current high school seniors who didn’t get to play baseball this spring due to the coronavirus pandemic.
With college seniors allowed another spring sports season of eligibility by the NCAA (although individual schools will determine whether the same scholarships will be made available for the extra year), the current high school seniors will face increased competition to get on the field in college.
“We are starting this up 100 percent due to the impact COVID-19 has on 2020 seniors and even other classes,” John Scanzano said. “The NCAA giving everybody eligibility back affected the 2020 kids, and their season being canceled really crushed them.”
The players won’t lose a year of college eligibility and will basically be spending a year honing their baseball skills. There will be SAT prep, sports performance -- which focuses on the mental aspects of the game -- and a baseball IQ class.
“The players coming here will be committed to it,” Thompson said. “They are coming to get in this program to get an edge, to learn how to play this game and hopefully get some eyes on them and get a chance to go on to college or get drafted. I am really looking forward to the challenge.”
According to John Scanzano, those on the team would be able to take up to 12 college credits online for the entire school year, but that would not be affiliated with the program. The academy is looking to attract players from all states and even abroad.
According to Scanzano, tuition is expected to be between $12,000 and $15,000 for the year, which runs from September to May.
There will be a fall schedule of about 15 games, then winter training followed by a spring season, one in which the team already has a Southern trip lined up.
In the fall, there will be scrimmages with mainly junior colleges and college JV teams and in the spring the schedule will include prep schools, postgraduate schools, and college JV programs.
The Scanzanos already operate an indoor sports center, which specializes in baseball in Cherry Hill, and run 15 AAU baseball teams.
For Thompson, 61, this is just a new challenge. He spent the previous three seasons as a minor-league hitting coordinator for the Cincinnati Reds. In September, the Reds made sweeping changes to their minor-league staff, and Thompson was among those with whom the Reds parted ways.
Through mutual friends, the Scanzanos and Thompson met, and he liked the idea of being close to his Washington Township home and to work with young aspiring players.
“I have 41 years of professional baseball, so I have a lot of knowledge, to even break it down in classroom sessions,” Thompson said. “It is not just playing the game. There are a lot of little things you need to pay attention to and I can give them advice for.”
Thompson played 13 years in the majors with six teams, including two stints with the Phillies. He hit .262 in 340 at-bats for the 1993 Phillies.
“I think one of the coolest things about me and what I have done is I can tell you how to be an everyday player, how to be a platoon player, and how to play off the bench,” he said. “I have done all three.”
He also spent 5 1/2 years (2005-10) as the Phillies hitting coach. The Phillies finished in the top three in the National League in runs scored in each of Thompson’s first five seasons as hitting coach.
“Once you get to the big-league level and become hitting or pitching coach, you will get fired sooner or later,” Thompson said. “That is part of the game. You just can’t worry about stuff like that and it happens. What I do is try to stay positive.”
He says that is what he will do as a head coach.
“One of the things I told John [Scanzano], I don’t scream and yell,” Thompson said. “That is not the type of person I am. If a kid does something I disagree with, I will pull him to the side and take care of it, not in front of everybody.”
Thompson laughs when asked about new hitting techniques emphasizing things such as launch angle.
“The launch angle has always been in the game, because you swing and you finish high,” he said. “Right now, everybody is trying to create that finish and that is what is getting players into some trouble with all the strikeouts. Nobody knows how to swing through the baseball.”