September 10, 2013

Former MLB player makes Myrtle Beach his home, dedicates skills to teaching youth

When Dennis Kinney was in the process of relocating to the Grand Strand from Pennsylvania, he was impressed by the baseball-friendly nature of the area, and this especially hit home for him one day when he peered over the centerfield fence at Myrtle Beach High School.

When Dennis Kinney was in the process of relocating to the Grand Strand from Pennsylvania, he was impressed by the baseball-friendly nature of the area, and this especially hit home for him one day when he peered over the centerfield fence at Myrtle Beach High School.

“I saw this great baseball field and I thought – ‘man, this is really nice – I need to get involved here,’ ” he said. In March 2012 he revisited the baseball field while practice was in full swing. This time, he walked onto the field and introduced himself to Seahawks head baseball coach Tim Christy.

“I told him who I was, and that I retired here and just wanted to be involved with baseball – and I was interested in helping the kids. He said, ‘come on,’ and that’s where it began.” After this brief conversation, Kinney became a part of the coaching staff there. He returns this fall, now in his third year with the Seahawks and second year as pitching coach.

One might ask how a man could just walk onto a field and grab a position like that with just one conversation. What qualifications does he have – and just who, exactly, is this guy?

Kinney competed at the major league level as pitcher for five seasons from 1978-1982, enjoying stints with the Cleveland Indians, San Diego Padres, Detroit Tigers and Oakland A’s, rubbing elbows with legendary managers including Sparky Anderson and Billy Martin along the way. These accomplishments came after being drafted by the Indians organization out of high school in Michigan and honing his skills for eight years at every level of the minors until he finally made what he calls the “Big Club.”

Of course, MLB credentials are compelling in their own right, but Kinney’s qualifications don’t stop there. He coached youth baseball for many years and spent four years coaching at Northwestern Lehigh High School in New Tripoli, Pa. He later became pitching coach for DeSales University in Center Valley, Pa, continuing there for seven years. He is a National Pitching Association Certified Coach, having studied under renowned pitching coach Tom House. Kinney holds a bachelor’s degree in sales and marketing from DeSales University and an MBA from Wilkes University.

Post MLB, Kinney worked for a construction management firm for 26 years.

He continues to play baseball with an outfit called the Men’s Senior Baseball League.

“I played in Allentown for a number of years in a number of local leagues up there, but I’ve played almost every year up until I moved here,” he said. “But I do go out to tournaments in Arizona with these guys.” He is heading out west in October for a MSBL tournament.

Kinney also coaches for an organization called Beach Baseball in connection with former Myrtle Beach Pelicans utility infielder [with the Braves organization] Willie James. “Willie had a team called the Carolina Trojans, and I helped coach them last year and this year,” he said. “Now the Carolina Trojans have joined Beach Baseball.” This is a youth travel baseball organization, with regional tournaments across the Carolinas. “Willie is well-respected and very knowledgeable. He’s a good coach and a good man,” said Kinney.

“What impressed me the most about Dennis was – here was a guy who played in the major leagues, the highest level of baseball where I dreamed of playing and all little leaguers dream of playing,” said James. “Dennis never settles on his accomplishments. He has a desire to teach the game and consistently learn how to make players better and healthier. If you ever have an opportunity to sit down and talk to Dennis, you will not only learn so much about baseball, but you will walk away with a newfound love of the game.”

The decision to move to Myrtle Beach was the result of what Kinney calls a “turn left tour” conducted by his wife Sue Kinney and stepdaughter Amanda Johnson.

“I was basically retired, and we were looking for places to relocate. ... We were looking at the best places to retire – doing research and looking at taxes, weather – all of the components to consider when retiring. The girls took off and I stayed back.”

The upshot is that Myrtle Beach met all of the criteria for a move. “Sue came back home and said ‘I think Myrtle Beach is the place.’ ” The Kinneys came back to the area in June 2011 to take another look.

“I loved the beach, and I saw all of the baseball going on here,” he said. “I liked the weather, and the people are friendly here.” And cost-wise, it was a reasonable proposition to make the move.

Sue Kinney elaborates.

“The ‘turn left tour’ kind of evolved out of leisure drives we could take through the back roads of Pennsylvania – with no directions, destination or time frame in mind. The idea was to just be open minded, keep it stress free and enjoy the ride,” she said.

Myrtle Beach wound up as a whistle stop on this multi-state junket.

“We wanted someplace warm, with affordable housing, lower taxes – but still plenty of things to do. When my youngest daughter decided to go back to school for nursing we all decided it was the perfect opportunity to take a mother-daughter ‘turn left tour’ and check out some places.”

The Kinneys made Myrtle Beach their home in August, 2011, and Johnson started the nursing program at Horry-Georgetown Technical College that month as well.

Two years later, the area has exceeded the family’s expectations, Sue Kinney said.

“The community and people are wonderful and have made us feel at home. We both love the fact that you can find music almost everywhere you go, from the corner pub to the House of Blues. Recreation abounds and who doesn’t love the beach? There is so much to do that it’s almost overwhelming. When we can’t decide, sometimes we just ‘turn left.’ ”

The fact that Tim Christy welcomed Kinney into the Myrtle Beach Seahawks Baseball family was a win-win for all concerned. After that on-field conversation, Christy introduced him to the team.

“He said some really kind words, and the kids introduced themselves and were very respectful,” he said. “The first year I got to know the kids a little bit. The next year, I got basically full reign of the pitching staff, and the kids did pretty well.” Overall varsity standings for the Hawks in 2012-13 were 11-6-0, up from a 6-12-0 record in 2011-2012.

Christy sees Kinney as a gift that fell into his lap.

“He showed up at the field one day and asked if I was Coach Christy,” he said. “We talked for about five minutes and I asked him if he would like to be our pitching coach. He brings a wealth of knowledge and the innate ability to relate to kids that is so important if you aspire to coach. He has a tremendous work ethic, is very humble and has a professional attitude about all that he does. There is no question that the success our pitchers had last year was a direct result of his instruction. I would fire myself before I let him get away.”

Last year, Kinney brought his skills and experience to the forefront and launched a business called The Pitch USA [ www.thepitchusa.com], which offers pitching instruction, conditioning and velocity training programs for what he calls the serious player.

“Baseball is a process,” he said. “There is so much going on and it’s not an easy game to play. It takes speed, conditioning, functional strength and flexibility.” It is Kinney’s goal to deal with kids and parents who are serious about getting better at every aspect of the game.

A blurb from the website sums this up: “The Pitch USA was founded to inform, instruct and inspire the serious ball player. The conditioning and training protocols we use are researched-based and proven to be the most up-to-date techniques for mechanical efficiency and injury prevention. We provide private and group instruction, conduct camps and clinics for players and coaches, and work with physical therapists to rehabilitate injured throwers. Our pre-season, in-season and off-season conditioning programs will build functional strength and improve flexibility while incorporating efficient mechanics. Taking players to the next level and helping them realize their potential is what we do.”

In addition to his National Pitching Association certification, Kinney makes it a point to stay up-to-date on best practices in regard to coaching and instruction. He recently returned from a trip to Hudson Mass., where he picked up a certification from high performance training guru Eric Cressey, who is on the cutting edge of training techniques for both healthy and injured athletes.

“This is specifically gravitated toward shoulder and arm health for throwing athletes and baseball players in particular,” said Kinney. In December he is planning a trip to Houston to see Ron Wolforth of the Texas Baseball Ranch and Pitching Central for more training.

“Just because I played in the major leagues and was a good athlete does not make me a good coach. The things I am doing are based on research, science and video analysis, and this separates me from the generic pitching coach.”

He admits that he has made his mistakes along the way and can now point these out to young players.

“Let’s say there is a kid who is a high school sophomore. He might be pretty good, but I see that he’s not going to play up to the next level if he doesn’t make some changes – whether it’s strength, ability, flexibility or mechanical adjustments.”

The Pitch USA offers conditioning specifically for the throwing athlete to develop balance, strength and mobility combined with proper pitching mechanics.

But Kinney sees much more for The Pitch USA, moving forward. The Pitch is an acronym for The Players Institute for Throwing, Catching and Hitting.

“I envision putting a team together of like-minded people,” he said. “Some might be good at infield play, outfield play and hitting.” But other key team members might include a physical therapist, a strength and conditioning coach and an orthopedic surgeon. “I can refer out to key people. It is a total body conditioning thing that I would like to get into.”

He asserts that pitchers who participated in his velocity and conditioning programs averaged an increase of 4 miles per hour, but one young man, Walter Borkovich, went from throwing 82 mph to 89 mph on the gun after working with Kinney and taking the program to heart. Borkovich recently signed a national letter of intent to play baseball for Michigan State University.

Another young man was diagnosed with Little Leaguers Elbow and went through four months of rehabilitation. The boy still felt pressure when he threw. The child’s father, Kevin Roth, a doctor of osteopathic medicine, had this to say:

“In the first 20 minutes of the first lesson he changed my son’s mechanics and he has thrown without discomfort ever since. Each lesson the coach had with him built on the previous one. He had an easy manner that my son responded to and when a lesson was over he would ask ‘when do we see Coach Kinney again?’After his series of lessons my son threw the most innings for our team, had the most strikeouts, the most pickoffs and fielded his position well. When we told Coach Kinney that my son was chosen for the All Star Team and thanked him for his help, his reply was ‘I didn’t do anything, Andrew did all the work.’ Yes, he is right. My son spent a lot of time on the practice field, but without Coach Kinney’s guidance I believe my son could never have come so far, so quickly. I cannot thank him enough.”

“I want to help kids, and this stuff works,” said Kinney.

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