New Business: Thrown a curve, then striking out (in a good way)

Kevin Donati had visions of a baseball career. An injury led him to open Rip City Academy.

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DALTON — When Kevin Donati was born, his grandfather looked at his hands and said, "He's going to be a shortstop."

Donati's grandfather was the late George "Buddy" Pellerin, the longtime baseball and softball coach at Pittsfield High School, and his assessment proved to be correct.

Donati, a middle infielder for most of his career, was a standout baseball player at Pittsfield High School, earned a Division I baseball scholarship to the University of Albany and spent two summers with the Pittsfield Suns of the Futures League.

Donati, 22, hoped to play pro baseball someday, but a serious shoulder injury his junior year at UAlbany ended that dream. Still in love with the game — "I could do it every day," Donati said — he found another angle, one that his grandfather also enjoyed: developing young ballplayers.

On Nov. 4, Donati and his business partner opened Rip City Academy, a baseball/softball training facility on Dalton Division Road, in the space formerly occupied by Berkshire Organics. The facility contains state-of-the-art training equipment that baseball and softball players can use to improve their skills. They include a high-tech device known as a Rapsodo machine, which measures the spin on a thrown ball, as well as the trajectory and angle after the ball has been hit.

"Our philosophy is taking modern fitness techniques and modern coaching techniques with modern technology to measure the gains in an athlete," Donati said. He provides an example:

"An athlete comes here hitting [baseballs] at 85" miles per hour, Donati said. "Say, he wants to play Division I baseball. Well, you better be hitting balls at 100 [miles per hour]. Now, we have to figure out a plan to get him from Point A to Point B. And that's my job."

There's more.

Donati, who recently became a scout for the San Diego Padres, said that having gone through the college recruiting process after high school is an off-the-field experience that he also can use to assist young athletes.

"Obviously, going through the recruiting process and now being a scout with the Padres, I have a good idea of how to help athletes reach the next level," he said. "And that's also a goal of mine."

Rip City, named after a similar business that Pellerin ran for several years, eventually will provide instruction in pitching, throwing, hitting and fielding for baseball and softball players. The business at present is more geared toward hitting.

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Also, the facility has what Donati refers to as a "three-wheel pitch machine" that comes as "close as you can" for batters to hit a baseball thrown by a live pitcher. Rip City provides individual, group and team instruction for men, women, boys and girls, starting at the elementary school level.

"I'd say the earlier, the better," Donati said. "Actually, the younger you are, you're teaching your body from a younger age to rotate faster. The earlier you do that, the better off you'll be down the road."

Donati, who graduated from UAlbany this past spring with a degree in communications, formulated the idea for opening an instructional facility when he spent last summer as a hitting coach with Prime Performance Athlete Training in Gaithersburg, Md., a facility that has testimonials from several Major League Baseball strength and conditioning coaches listed on its website.

"That's kind of where the idea formed," he said. "It's a very advanced facility. I learned a lot down there. It opened my eyes to the direction the game's going. Being from Berkshire County, I know how important baseball and softball is to the community. The stuff I learned down there, I really wanted to bring up here and expose our athletes to it."

Donati and his business partner used a bank loan to help finance the business and spent $25,000 on renovating and equipping the space, which formerly housed a produce market. Rip City has three employees, including Donati and Williams College assistant softball coach Mackenzie Keyes.

Pellerin, who died in 2016, was a member of the Massachusetts Baseball Coaches Hall of Fame, the High School Softball Coaches Hall of Fame, the UNICO Hall of Fame and the Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts Hall of Fame. He tutored generations of young baseball and softball players in Pittsfield dating to the 1950s .The Pittsfield High School baseball field at Clapp Park is named after him.

Pellerin also was a mentor to Donati, and his influence is present at the new Rip City. A baseball jersey with Pellerin's name spelled across the back can be found at the front desk. On the facility's website, Pellerin is listed as the founder of Rip City Academy.

"Buddy set the foundation for me as a person," Donati said. "I think it's my duty to build on that foundation. He meant a lot to me."

What would Pellerin think of his grandson's new facility?

"He knows," Donati said, "and I think he's smiling down."

Rip City Academy is open from 3 to 9 p.m. Monday through Friday, and from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. on weekends. Information: ripcityacademy.net.

Tony Dobrowolski can be reached at tdobrowolski@berkshireeagle.com or 413-496-6224.


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