Illinois Baseball Academy’s heart on the diamond
Wilmette Sunday 4/15/12 Jacob Peterson, age5 waits for practice to begin during the T-ball opening day of baseball at the Community Playfield. | Jerry Daliege~for Sun-Times Media
Updated: May 28, 2012 8:36AM
Chris Beacom believes he is blessed to be able to work in his own business, in a field he loves. Hundreds of Wilmette area parents and their baseball-loving youngsters are just as glad as Beacom that his Illinois Baseball Academy is there for them.
For the past six years Beacom, a Winnetka-born New Trier graduate who now calls Wilmette home, has operated the Illinois Baseball Academy, providing baseball coaching and game experience for youngsters from pre-school through eighth grade. Although his office is in downtown Wilmette, at 1150 Wilmette Ave., the heart of his business beats on the baseball diamond.
In partnership with area park districts since 2008, he and his staff of mentoring coaches teach 4-year-olds the fun of T-ball, and older children the intricate joys of baseball, “making sure all the kids are having a good time, and that they’re learning not only baseball, but leadership and character building.”
An estimated 450 young T-ball fans and their parents arrived April 15 at Wilmette’s community play field to start the academy’s 2012 T-ball season, evidence of the program’s popularity.
Beacom’s baseball ties are strong. After graduating from New Trier and Northwestern University, he won a spot in the Toronto Blue Jays’ farm system, playing minor league ball in Canada.
He returned to New Trier in the 1990s, coaching baseball and teaching English. He enjoyed “trying to get kids, in this case high school kids, to recognize that individually we all are special and have something to contribute.”
But he realized he wanted to take the concepts of connecting with kids, and using baseball as a vehicle for teaching, farther, “and to do something with it that hadn’t been done before.”
The idea percolated for several years, until one day in 2006 when his wife, Jennifer, directed his attention to a slightly younger demographic than teenagers.
“She said, ‘Hey, kindergarten kids, and 4- and 5-year-olds, are typically in school half a day. Have you thought about doing something for that age group?’ So she and I kicked around the idea of what makes a positive experience for young kids.”
Beacom began to run weekend baseball clinics at the Winnetka Bible Church, initially with a roster of 15 to 20 youngsters, many of who were children of his friends. But the classes became popular, and his program quickly grew, with Beacom adjusting his lesson plans and curricula as his initial student group grew older.
“As my son progressed from kindergarten in his (baseball) career, so I progressed in how I approached teaching and coaching in the program,” he said.
It took work to build the business, Beacom said, adding “I had to knock on a lot of doors.”
“At the time, I was also the guy making everything from name tags to collecting checks, as any small business owner has to at the beginning. I was handling everything.”
In 2008, he approached the Wilmette Park District and the Glenview Park District and worked out program agreements with both.
The partnership has proved highly successful, Wilmette Park District Recreation Superintendent Kathy Bingham said this week.
Four years later, the Illinois Baseball Academy provides classes, clinics and summer camps for more than 2,000 boys and girls, Beacom said. His staff includes student athletes from Northwestern University and elsewhere and ranges between 10 and 40 depending on the season.
Beacom’s next big challenge looms on the horizon. The Illinois Baseball Academy will be expanding programs to a 140,000-square-foot baseball complex scheduled to open in Rosemont, next to that community’s ball park, which is home of the Chicago Bandits professional women’s softball team.
“Starting in June we’re going to be exposed to a whole new universe of clients and opportunities as it relates to youth and baseball,” he said, expanding what his organization offers in the winter months.
No matter who he and his staff teach, Beacom said, the lessons will continue to be laced with fun, respect and character building. And Beacom couldn’t be happier.
“A lot of us grow up and just assume that what we’re supposed to do is step into a job that has a clearly defined path on how to progress and make money. For myself, I’m blessed with being able to do something that I’m passionate about, and make it my life’s work.”
Learn more about the Illinois Baseball Academy at www.illinoisbaseballacademy.com, or call (847) 899-3620.