Gregg Jefferies shares 13 years of major league experience with Pleasanton athletes
You might imagine that with 13 years in the major leagues, awards including two-time Minor League Player of the Year, two All Star games and a nomination to the Baseball Hall of Fame, it would be easy to get Gregg Jefferies talking about his time as a player. Not so much.
Though the stories come in bits and pieces, they are all in reference to what he really wants to talk about: the Gregg Jefferies Sports Academy.
Jefferies leads a tour of his brand new Pleasanton facility like a kid showing his gifts Christmas morning -- around every corner, through every door, is another surprise he cannot wait to share. The excitement and pride clearly stems from the time and attention to detail he and his partner, Darren Nicholson, dedicated to ensure the 12,000-square-foot facility will become all they imagined it could be for Bay Area athletes and their families.
As Jefferies describes it, their idea was to "build a complete athletic training facility, all under one roof."
Jefferies says his path to Pleasanton began with his father, Rich Jefferies, who made baseball fun, never a regimen, for Gregg and his brother.
"My dad played in the major leagues till he had kids," Jefferies explains. "Then he quit and became a high school (physical education) teacher. There just wasn't the money in the game that there is now. He couldn't make enough playing to support a family."
Gregg Jefferies was drafted straight out of San Mateo's Junipero Serra High School in 1985, then spent two years in the minor leagues before being brought up to play with the New York Mets. While Jefferies didn't have a long struggle before achieving his dream of playing professional ball, those years in the majors and a severed hamstring made him a veteran of every experience and emotion of an athlete.
"I've faced Nolan Ryan and other Hall of Fame pitchers," he says. "I know what it feels like to be at the top of the game, and I know what it feels like when you think you'll never hit again. I know what it's like to be injured, I know what it feels like to struggle. There is no emotion I haven't been through and I can help these kids learn how to handle all those things."
Though the academy doors only opened in December, Jefferies has found ways to stay involved with the athletic community since his professional career was cut short by a severed hamstring in June 2000. A switch hitter with a career .290 batting average, Jefferies admits it was awhile before he could even watch a game on television. And though Jefferies' well-known prowess at the plate has brought him four offers to coach in the major leagues, that lifestyle just doesn't work any longer.
"I have four kids, and I love being part of their lives," Jefferies explains. "I can't travel like that anymore, and there is no way around the time you've got to spend on the road."
The big leagues' loss of Jefferies' talents has been a tremendous benefit for the local baseball community. Jefferies has offered clinics and classes at various facilities and spent the last five years volunteering as the hitting coach at Foothill High School where his oldest son, Jake, played and earned a baseball scholarship to Cal State Fullerton.
Gregg Jefferies has long believed having his own place to teach and mentor young players would be a part of his future, and with Jake graduated and Nicholson on board, the time seemed right to make the move.
"It's been nerve-wracking and crazy," says Jefferies, "but it's also really exciting."
Knocking out walls and raising ceilings throughout the expansive space, the two men transformed the former office building on Koll Center Parkway into a training facility that rivals those found on college campuses.
"In fact," Jefferies points out, "lots of the kids we train came back from college during the holidays and told us this is the nicest facility they've ever seen."
The partners decided it was essential to extend the use of the facility beyond the baseball/softball crowd.
"Parents ask me if it is OK for their kids to play more than one sport," Jefferies says. "I am a huge advocate for that. Every sport coincides with other sports. They all help the kids develop as athletes.
"It's fine to train year round," he adds, "but there needs to be different levels of training."
Soccer teams, lacrosse coaches, basketball players, sprinters, swimmers, injured athletes and moms with an hour to spare while their kids are getting coached will all find reasons to work out, or just hang out, at the academy. Jefferies rattles off the list of amenities like a fan reciting a player's stats.
"We have two weight rooms filled with $70,000 of free weights and machines, a cardio room, a video review room, three portable pitching mounds with space to move out a regulation 60 feet 6 inches from the plate, evening strength and conditioning classes, physical therapists, 40 yards of speed and agility training, three batting cages for live hitting and seven tee stations."
Jefferies pauses for a moment and adds, "Those are Tanner tees. All the big league teams use Tanner tees."
While the big league facilities share a lot of features with the academy, Jefferies' place boasts a couple of highlights most are missing: a room for birthday parties, complete with a drop down screen for movie viewing, and a wiffle ball stadium, inspired by the one behind left field at the Giant's AT&T Park.
It may be called the Gregg Jefferies Sports Academy, but Jefferies stresses it is the skills of its assembled team that make the academy a valuable asset to the community.
"We have been lucky to bring together an incredibly talented group of people who understand sports at a very high level," he explains, citing the expansive resumes of the rest of the staff which complement and support different aspects of the sports training experience.
Nicholson, who also coaches with Foothill's varsity staff, played college ball at Chico State and spent 12 years scouting for the Pirates. Head pitching coach Eddie Delzer played with the Angels and currently works with the Oakland A's. Andrew Hamel is a Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist who also coaches Amador Valley High's football team.
Even the general manager, Taryn Alexander, has a sports background, having played basketball through college, worked for the Giants and kept Stanford University's summer sports programs running smoothly.
"We wanted to bring in the right people," Jefferies asserts. "We knew it was important that we all share the same philosophy, and we do. We have a great time together."
Jefferies' philosophy as a hitting coach is all about breaking baseball down to the fundamentals.
"There are all these strange techniques out there," he says, shaking his head. "Everyone wants to put a spin on how to hit or how to pitch so they can put their name on it and market it as a brand. That's not what we teach here. This is not the Gregg Jefferies way to play baseball. This is what they're using in the big leagues.
"The key to being a good instructor," he continues, "is getting the player to understand the mechanics. It's not about hitting the ball, it's about being able to stand there and break down the swing and know what you need to fix when things aren't feeling right."
It's Wednesday night and Jefferies is working with the academy's inaugural hitting class, mostly high school age. Jefferies' enthusiasm is clearly visible as he moves from station to station, calling out instructions, with wisecracks flying across the room. Once class is over and all equipment has been put back in place, Jefferies calls the boys together.
"I know the session is 10 classes long and next week should be our last class," he says, "but I've decided this class doesn't count. So tell your parents you still have two classes left, and I will see you next week."
And that is how Gregg Jefferies plays ball.
Gregg Jefferies MLB statistics
-High School: Junipero Serra High School, San Mateo, class of '85
-All-WCAL defensive back, All-NorCal infielder
-Drafted by New York Mets in 1985, First round, 20 overall
-Minor League Player of the Year, 1986 and 1987
-National League All-Star Team, 1983 and 1984
• New York Mets (1987-1991)
• Kansas City Royals (1992)
• St. Louis Cardinals (1993-1994)
• Philadelphia Phillies (1995-1998)
• Anaheim Angels (1998)
• Detroit Tigers (1999-2000)
* Batting Average: .290
* Home runs: 126
* Runs batted in: 663
-MLB Debut -- Sept. 6, 1987, for New York Mets
-Last MLB Appearance -- May 29, 2000, for Detroit Tigers