Mike, we appreciate the opportunity to have you share with our readers. Before we get into what you're currently doing, tell our readers a little about your baseball background.
MF - I played high school baseball at Byrnes high school and accepted a scholarship to Spartanburg Methodist Junior college where I played my first two years. I then attended Georgia Tech on a baseball scholarship where I learned to play the outfield. I signed a minor league contract with the Braves organization where I played for three years. I also played one year in the Italian professional baseball league.
JrDP - You've been around some great baseball people. Who are some of those that have shaped your philosophy about the game and what they did to do that?
MF - I had the great fortune of playing for some of the best baseball minds in the game. Lon Joyce was my coach at Spartanburg Methodist College. He was the head coach there for 14 years and has spent the past 12 years as a scout for the Los Angeles Dodgers where he is in charge of scouting South Carolina, North Carolina and Georgia. Lon taught me self control at all times during the game. This helped me to succeed in pressure situations. At Georgia Tech, Jim Morris was my coach. He has been the head coach for the Miami Hurricanes (one of the top programs in the country) for the past 15 years. His assistant at Georgia Tech was Turtle Thomas. He had stints at Clemson and Georgia Tech before heading to LSU where he is currently an assistant. Turtle taught me how to play the outfield. In pro ball I played 2 ½ yrs for Grady Little, who eventually was the big league manager for both the Boston Red Sox and the Los Angeles Dodgers. He was quite a character who managed with his gut instincts. I played one season for Ned Yost in Sumter. Ned went on to become big league manager for the Milwaukee Brewers for six years. Ned was much more technical and stats driven in his managerial approach. I had the fortune of meeting and playing for Smokey Burgess, who was known as one of the best pinch hitters of all time. I also received some hitting instruction from Hall of Famer Eddie Matthews.
JrDP - You were a standout at Georgia Tech back in the 80's. What was college baseball like back then and how has it changed since then?
MF - When I played for Georgia Tech, the program was really just coming into its own as an ACC and national power. We won the ACC championship both years I played there. We had tremendous talent but were allowed to play our own game. Coaches didn't try to change swings and make everyone a clone. The game hasn't changed but some of the coaches have decided to field teams that appear to have like players at every position. I feel this hinders personal development but may help programs to achieve success. I know this sounds strange but that's the way I see it.
JrDP - You played a little in the Italian Professional League. What was that like?
MF - This was a terrific experience for me. I got to travel Eastern Europe during our down time. The game was probably equivalent to our high A minor league ball here. There were several Ex-Major Leaguers playing there at that time, Jim Morrison, Manny Sarmiento, Pete Falcone to name a few.
JrDP - What brought you to Stars Sports Academy?
MF - I was approached by Mark Patterson, the owner and founder of Stars. We had attended high school together at Byrnes and he reached out to me to help him coordinate the baseball aspect of Stars.
JrDP - What services do you offer at the facility?
MF - Like most training facilities we offer individual instruction for hitting, pitching, and fielding. We have several travel teams this summer for our players to play on also. We offer group training sessions that are age appropriate to give our kids a more well rounded game. This allows the kids more time at the school for less money. We have membership programs to fit any budget. We try to make our school affordable to every kid. Sort of like the "No Child Left Behind" program in school. We have a terrific group of coaches and instructors and they all can help any kid who needs attention.
JrDP - Tell us a little about some of the other instructors at Stars Sports Academy?
MF - I have Jeff Lowe, former teammate at SMC (terrific trainer for all ages for hitting or fielding). Jonathan Hurst (current pitching coach for the Kingsport Mets) does a fantastic job with pitching. Jonathan and Matt Henderson provide excellent training on fundamentals for all ages in hitting, pitching and catching. Amber Patterson, Mark's daughter, is our ace in the hole softball trainer. She is an outstanding teacher for pitching and hitting. She received training from some of the top coaches in the southeast and is constantly reading and studying new technigues.
JrDP - Mike, what are some of the things kids today have available to them that you didn't have as a kid?
MF - I guess the training facilities like ours is the biggest difference.
JrDP - Do you think kids take advantage of those things?
MF - I do, if their parents are aware of them. Many parents today are unaware of the advantage this type of training affords their kids. Kids receiving instruction can really advance past their peers who are not doing this.
JrDP - What do you see of the skills that most kids are lacking or what areas are there that you see kids needing the most work at?
MF - Probably hitting. Becoming a good hitter takes a lot of time unless you are a natural.
JrDP - Besides talent, what traits in a player are important to you?
MF - I like a player with heart and desire that always puts the team first.
JrDP - If you could draft a recipe of the complete player, what would that be?
MF - If I can step back in time, my complete player would have the heart and desire of Pete Rose, the consistency and work ethic of Steve Garvey, and the flair for the spotlight like Reggie Jackson.
JrDP - Naturally, Junior Diamond Prospects is interested in identifying some of the younger players that have bright futures in the game. Who are some of the more talented players (grades 4 through 8, ages 9-14) that have come through your facility?
MF - Wow, now that's a tough question. We have only been open for three years so most of our kids are just now in the 9th grade. Austin Worley will be an outstanding player for Boiling Springs. Seth Lewis and Ian Metts from Dorman. Taylor Warren and Caleb Baxter from Byrnes. Jon Humphries, Kaleb Kuykendall, Thomas Rabatie and Gus Wofford form Landrum. Some our younger stars include Carson Durham, Jayden Durrah (age 9). Mason Streater, Elijah Henderson, Drew Evett, Justin Bledsoe (age 11). Hunter Wheeler, J.J. Smith (age 13).
JrDP - Tell us something that separates these kids from the rest.
MF - Each of these kids has excellent fundamentals. They have talent and desire and should do well.
Mike, we wish you and your staff the best at Stars Sports Academy. Thank you for taking a little time out to tell us about you, your staff and the facility. We thank you for what you are doing to advance baseball in our state.
To learn more about Stars Sports Academy, click here.