Playing the game of baseball and truly understanding what it takes to be prepared for what happens on each pitch is really an educational calling, where study, review and repetition are just the first steps to getting a handle on a giant topic.
And while there’s no patent on the right mindset, more than a few athletes have noticed, and then explored, the natural connection between the discipline of baseball, and the rigor associated with living a life guided by their religious faith. To this subset of the baseball population, pouring your heart into the game and honoring it with respect in even the most challenging situations is an echo of how one should aspire to carry himself in day-to-day interactions.
So even as Texas native Brian Capps fulfilled his athletic promise in the sport, excelling at the JUCO and D-I levels before moving on to play professionally, it never sat comfortably when those moments surfaced where substandard behavior affected the way the game looked and felt. And it really was a non-starter when Capps decided to get into coaching youth baseball — he knew what worked for him, and how he wanted kids to see the game.
So, in the fall of 2009, he started the C3 Futures Academy in Roanoke, Texas, a suburb in the northwest area of Dallas. Founded on the themes of character, commitment and community, C3 Futures began with one 14u squad determined to carve a niche in the swirling, snarling world of competitive club baseball.
“We are going to be known for developing players at the highest level, while making sure leadership from our coaching staff is at the very top. “We look to set an example, to represent a brand bigger than ourselves,” said Capps, who coached that first 14u team. We consider what it’s like to have an appropriate perspective inside the game, and how they handle situations outside. It’s a blast to be able to do what we do, and do it differently.”
Capps was born into a baseball family that had always kept a Christian message close to heart, what with grandfather Bill Capps earning a spot in the MLB Scouts Hall of Fame after a 50-year career as player, manager and scout for the Chicago Cubs. Brian’s father, Buddy, was a huge influence in his baseball and another steady-as-a-rock believer in how to live for Jesus and give it your best in whatever you do. At Western Oklahoma State College, he was immersed in the work ethic and developmental savvy of Kurt Russell, and then learned the baseball-and-faith interplay from longtime Texas Tech coach Larry Hays, one of the winningest coaches in college history.
After his career as a player drew to a close, Capps knew his future was in coaching and development, and he liked the idea of making the right waves in Southlake, which he called home. And he had plenty of evidence from his playing days, and right in front of him while watching youth baseball, to guide his approach.
“I was set to do the entire select thing and baseball thing a different way. To put God first, and treat the game and people the right way,” he said. “I had a lot of great influences. There’s also the negative side to sports, which is pride and arrogance and a million other things. You’ve got to learn to handle those things, and we think part of our job is to be a strong influence in the lives of all these young men.”
Of course, keeping the doors open at the C3 facility and making sure tryouts are well attended is at least partially tied to the successes of the teams. Some of that is on the field — Futures teams hoist trophies at the end of tournaments on a regular basis; the organization is not afraid to hit the road and take on competition from all corners of the country, and the older age groups get a healthy and aggressive dose of showcase and college exposure action to increase the odds of landing a spot on a college roster.
And that’s fully in the scope of C3’s mission — like Proverbs 22:1 says, a good name is more desirable than great riches. Blend that with some regular, resilient conversation about how to train and develop ball players on and off the field, and the model begins to gather steam. Tryouts this November are expected to allow the Futures to field teams from 8u through 18u, in keeping with the vision of both Brian and Derek Worley, who is the head of Baseball Operations and one who has been here from the beginning.
“Parents want to be a part of something bigger than baseball. We’re in it for the long haul, and we love to make a difference in all the important ways,” said Todd Van Poppel, who had a 15-year pitching career in Major League Baseball and was naturally inclined to coach youth baseball in the same atmosphere the Futures embraced. “If it becomes about all the money you can make, I tend to run away from that. I like to teach about life and provide opportunities. The game at almost every level is more about the politics and the business, and I’d had enough of that in the big leagues. Here, I can make a difference in people’s lives and not just go around playing select ball and pulling the best 12 kids I can find from other teams.”
Van Poppel’s 10u team back in 2012 certainly had reason to turn its back on the mission during the Triple Crown Sports SlumpBuster in Omaha, when a very debatable call from the home-plate umpire allowed the other team to plate the winning run. Van Poppel held his tongue, encouraged his players and parents to hold tight to what they stood for, and walked away with something everyone could be proud to remember.
“We get a lot of compliments on how our players and parents act. I see things, and I just can’t figure out why there has to be an argument,” he said. “Everyone is capable of making a mistake, and maybe my shortstop missed a ball in the inning before. You’re still playing and competing, but you’re doing it in a respectful way.
Sure, the predatory nature of club baseball means players are recruited in the shadows, to jump ship to one of the other programs in the Metroplex, but C3 exudes a calm confidence about their ability to ride out those challenges.
“You can pay and play anywhere — but what will set you apart when everyone is seemingly doing the same thing is getting players better. We get players switching from other programs mostly because of a personal reference about who we are and how we develop,” Capps said. “They can see the difference themselves in the way we train players and get results. It’s also about the relationships we build with families — you have to be willing to be honest with parents about their kids and where they stand in the game, where they excel, where they lack, and then put a plan in action. If we’re going to get good players, and keep the mission, we have to place our value on every aspect of the player from the field to the classroom and always build into their life.”
“It was great. The environment they put you in just had no negative influence,” said Kevin Lentzner, who plays second base for a terrific Seminole State College team in Oklahoma and played on Capps’ original 14u team in 2009. “I became a better player, and a better person. All of them are followers of Christ, and that means nothing is going to slide, and nothing is going to happen that’s inappropriate.
“They got us a lot of exposure to colleges by the tournaments we entered. Fall ball, we’d travel to colleges and do pro-style showcase events along with round robins for preparation. Brian has a lot of connections, and with Todd Van Poppel, Derek Worley and Coach Russell alongside, it wasn’t hard getting noticed.”
Lentzner said his current baseball home is not quite the same environment as what he was use to with the Futures, but it is just another part of the process. The next level is a cutthroat and earn-your-keep environment, but that’s the reality of playing for a top-notch program.
That he can roll with the circumstances, and stand up (even on his own) in a way consistent with his faith, is just another sign that C3 and its operation have made a lasting impact.
“There’s a ton of teaching moments. We get all walks of people coming through the door, and our mission is to affect them,” Capps added. “We are huge on the process and not the end result. Learning to work hard and enjoy the process from both the player and the family will allow the end result to take care of itself.”