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Remembering 2013: Jason Aspito opens “Backyard University”

The dreaded off-season has arrived.  But fear not, despite news being a little slower this time of year, we have plenty of content to keep you occupied here at BlogToBlogChamps.  Each Monday, we’ll publish a feature from the 2013 York Revolutionary Times, the official game day magazine of the York Revolution for you to re-enjoy, or read for the first time in case you missed it at the ballpark.  This week, we look back at Revs all-time great Jason Aspito, and the opening of his indoor baseball facility business prior to the season in Red Lion, PA.

backyard u

By Paul Braverman

It takes a few minutes for the fluorescent lights over the artificial turf on Gerald Aspito Memorial Field to kick on at full strength.  Looking out from the bleachers, his 34-year-old son Jason, a former Revolution great, beams with pride at a comparable level.

“It looks a million times better than it used to, it was rough action.  I put in a lot of long days here, painting, tear down, you name it,” said Jason Aspito.  “I was fortunate I found some good people that did a lot of the stuff that I don’t know how to do.  But we did it right, and we hope that people see that hard work, and see that’s what we bring to the table when working with their kids.”

The lights are on now, revealing Backyard University, an indoor baseball paradise that many college programs and professional teams might be jealous of.  Located in Red Lion and run by Aspito with backing from a business partner, the old retro-fitted gymnasium features a wide open indoor main field with several batting cages and a full-size infield with enough room to practice real baseball situations, and separate batting cages in smaller rooms on two floors.

The day most players sign their first professional contract, they wonder when they might make it to the big leagues.  When Aspito first signed with the White Sox in 2000, there was a lot on his mind that day.

“Ever since I signed as a professional I wanted to open up a place like this.  Then I was still in the (York) area from meeting my wife and it just got going from there, me giving lessons at the (Sovereign Bank) Stadium, or go to wherever the kids were.  I would go give lessons all over the place and I was like man, I’d love to have my own spot where they can come to me.”

Aspito’s business venture taking off comes at a good time, as his wife Erin gave birth to their first child, a daughter, on February 8 of this year.  (The irony was not lost on Aspito that his first born arrived on 2/8, as 28 was his typical number and the one he wore for the Revolution.)

“I got a phone call one day from my now business partner, he wanted me to work with his daughter and son, and they’re both great ballplayers and made it look easy to teach,” he said.  “So we got to talking one day, and he told me to look for a building, it became available and that was how it got started.”

While the focus of the facility is baseball, and Aspito partners with a host of baseball acquaintances and former teammates to offer lessons and individual instruction, the space Backyard University occupies offers versatility for anyone’s idea – especially to stay active during the winter months.

“We have enough room for anyone to come in and get their work in, youth or adults.  We’ve had birthday parties in here, we plan on doing a dodgeball night, kickball, we’ve had men’s softball in here, we have a great speed and agility program athletes can take advantage of, so we’re all about developing the athlete and training the athlete,” Aspito said.

While the physical training aspect is obviously important, there is an existential component to the Aspito and Co. training regimen you might not expect.

“The mental aspect is so important, and I share that all the time,” says Aspito.  “Preparing to be in the mindset that failing 70% of the time makes you a great player and that it’s going to happen.  Even if they don’t quite grasp that yet.  Some still think they should get a hit every time up or never miss a ball.  It happens, get over it and worry about your next at bat or the next play.”

The honesty from Aspito is apparent from the beginning.  He describes himself as a blue-collar coach, and his no-nonsense approach meshes well with the nurturing environment at Backyard University.  He says he loves teaching kids the game – as long as they’re willing to work hard.

“I actually had a guy in here that’s 24 years old that asked me, ‘what do I have to do to make the Revs?’ Well, I had to be honest with him.  You’re probably going to spend 365 days eight hours a day in here to catch up to the players at that level.  People don’t realize the work that guys put in to become professionals.  It’s not ‘hey, we roll off the couch and go play,’” said Aspito.  “I have to make my students and players realize that.”

The fact that baseball is the ultimate “game of failure,” is a definite theme of Aspito’s method, not to be negative, but to point out that future success hinges on putting past failures away.  A flyer next to his office for an upcoming clinic sums it up, touting that players will discover how to:  “Let go of past poor at-bats, release the need to be perfect and stay focused and calm during crunch time.”  For a hitting clinic, there’s an awful lot on the agenda about attitude, opposed to actual hitting.

“To get that at a younger age is crucial,” says Aspito.  If I had had that even a little earlier in my career, I could’ve been better,” he admits.  “That mental aspect of being tougher.  Now I’m not saying you can’t get a little fired up, but release it, and then go worry about what’s next.”

For Aspito it’s a labor of love.  It’s difficult to find any recently retired player who won’t admit they miss playing, and he is no different.  But he’s pouring his affinity for baseball back into the novice levels as a way to stay connected with the game.  Backyard University is headquarters for two tournament teams for players 16 and under and 12 and under that Aspito coaches in addition to his ongoing lessons.  If that isn’t enough, he is also the head coach at Penn State-York, a title he’s held since 2009.  Clearly, he has baseball knowledge to give and the passion that comes with it.

The fruits of Aspito’s labor are starting to trickle in since the grand opening of Backyard University on January 26, and that look of pride intensifies.

“I get calls from kids telling me they made their high school team, or they hit a home run, and that’s what’s fun about it, while teaching some life lessons along the way.  Baseball’s a game where you learn real quick that life’s not fair.  So they might as well figure that out now, that baseball is easy compared to real life.”

Somewhat wistfully, Aspito wonders what it might be like some day if he is able to hang a picture in Backyard University of a former student in a big league ballcap who has signed a professional contract.

“If that would happen, it would be an awesome feeling.  Other than that kid’s parents, I don’t think anyone would be prouder than me.  But I’ll also know looking at that picture, how much work that kid put in.”

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