UNION, NJ - To hear Frozen Ropes' general manager Bill Connolly tell it, the results are all due to a simple formula. Sure the building - in the heart of Union - is a state-of-the-art training facility for many of the area's top baseball and softball players, one that utilizes not only the newest hitting and fielding equipment but also instructors that have played the sport professionally, but Connolly is beyond modest when describing the growing success of several of Frozen Ropes' students. Though 2010 was a banner year for several Frozen Ropes members and their teams, Connolly insists that success is the direct result of the methods implemented by Frozen Ropes founder Tony Abbatine, along with the hard work and dedication of his staff coupled with each student's desire to improve.
"You look at the past success of Frozen Ropes throughout the country and that's something we're trying to build in New Jersey, here in Union," Connolly said. "Players who set goals for themselves and invest in themselves, teams that set goals for themselves and invest in that and compete whether it's a middle school player trying to make the middle school team, whether it's a freshman who makes his freshman, jv or varsity team, or whether it's a team that comes in here and trains together - that's very satisfying to all of our instructors."
While several local athletes trained at Frozen Ropes this past off-season in preparation for the 2010 campaign, no team made a bigger effort - at least as a group - than Maplewood's Columbia Cougars. During the winter, no less than 17 players trained once a week at the Union facility and the extra work paid huge dividends. The Cougars started the season with a big bang as they rallied from 10 - that's right ten - runs down in the first inning to upset local powerhouse Seton Hall Prep, 18-17 in the second game of the 2010 season. Though the Pirates won the rematch later in the year, that didn't stop the Cougars from racking up 18 wins in 2010 before losing a heartbreaker to West Essex in the championship game of the Greater Newark Tournament, 5-4.
Joel Brown-Christenson, a senior starting pitcher for the Cougars who is also quite talented with the bat in his hands, had a monster game against Seton Hall Prep as he knocked in five runs. Christenson is a member of Frozen Ropes and took individual instruction while also training alongside his teammates this past off-season. The results were evident early on and continued throughout the year as Brown-Christenson continued to improve at the plate. Perhaps as a matter of coincidence or just by sheer fate, Brown-Christenson's hitting instruction began by accident.
"[Joel] Brown-Christenson, he was strictly doing pitching with me and one night, we were busy [in the building] and we didn't have a long tunnel," said Bryan Malko, Frozen Ropes' Director of Instruction and a 1995 MLB Draft pick of the Minnesota Twins. "I said, 'Do you want to go hit?' and he said, 'I'm not a hitter, I don't hit,' and I said, 'Let's go mess with it,' so we went over [and started working]. He was very raw and very talented."
Brown-Christenson took Malko's hitting lesson and turned it into a solid senior campaign at the plate. The 6-1, 160-pounder went from not recording a single at-bat as a junior to totaling 82 plate appearances this season in which he hit .271 with 17 runs scored, 17 RBI and seven extra-base hits including a couple of home runs. Aside from his five-RBI outburst against the Pirates early in the season, Brown-Christenson also had a huge game against Cedar Grove on May 1st during which he went 3-for-3 with three RBI and two doubles.
"Bryan is by far the best trainer I've ever had because he went beyond baseball. He showed me that [hitting] is a game of concentration," Brown-Christenson said. "He gave me a really season-altering hitting lesson. His influence made my game so much better."
Said Malko: "I'm here to make ballplayers better," "My philosophy on teaching - and I've been doing this for 14 years - is to treat each player as an individual. Certain things that work for one kid might not work for another. You do your best, you have a game plan coming into the lesson and you work with the individual towards [their strengths]. Ideally, my job in a nutshell is to relate to [the player]. It's not just a physical thing, it's a mental thing."
Not only does Frozen Ropes allow individuals to train at one of the best and most advanced facilities in the Northeast for a reasonable cost, the size of the structure allows entire teams to practice together during the cold and snowy winter months, something Brown-Christenson noted when discussing the Cougars' dramatic comeback win over Seton Hall Prep.
"From working out at Frozen Ropes [during the off-season] our team chemistry was as good as [any team] I've ever been on. Every Sunday, we would go take our swings, really work as a team then out to breakfast afterward. Even before the season, we were a family," the Rhodes College-bound player said.
While Brown-Christenson will continue his baseball career with the Lynx next season in Memphis, Tennessee, Connolly and his staff will continue to focus on every age and skill level in both baseball and softball, for both boys and girls, as Frozen Ropes in Union helps to grow the game in the heart of New Jersey.
"One of the things we offer is a program for every age and ability. Whatever age or ability you are, there is instruction, there are clinics, summer camps, there is private instruction, semi-private instruction and team training. There is a program for every age and ability here at Frozen Ropes."
There is also a positive atmosphere at Frozen Ropes, due solely to the hard work and dedication of Connolly and his staff. While teams like Columbia saw their off-season training pay huge dividends during the 2010 campaign, summer ball signals a new beginning, a fresh start for next year's crop of players. With a baseball oasis in Union, those who love America's pastime in this part of the country know that with the opportunity available to them to work at a place like Frozen Ropes, it'll be anybody's ballgame once spring 2011 arrives.