A few years ago, as I was just about to post something on my Twitter account, I saw a notification that I had been “tagged” or included in a post shared by Cumberland’s Upper Deck Baseball Academy. I had been to Upper Deck and the sports performance center inside Upper Deck, GLG Athletic Performance recently to meet some players, Jason Oldham, and his staff for an article I was writing. I clicked on the post and watched a video of a batter crushing a baseball with a smooth, yet powerful left handed swing. Here is a snapshot of that video and the post comments by Upper Deck:
The batter – LaSalle Academy’s Kayla Baptista. Baptista absolutely crushed the baseball traveling at an incredible 92 mph. Later on that night, I saw another notice, this one from Kayla herself which read “softball players can rake baseballs too.” Softball player, baseball player, heck any player that was an impressive display of hitting.
Since my mother’s family is from Wareham, MA and having been to Wareham’s Spillane Field since I was old enough to walk, I have a special interest in the Wareham Gatemen of the Cape Cod Baseball League. I follow their team every summer and go to as many games as I can, stopping by my mother’s house on Sawyer Street where she grew up. With the CCBL season back on track this year after a year hiatus, I have been active on Wareham’s website for any and all information about their summer 2021 season. On their social media pages, I read that Rhode Island’s Kayla Baptista would be a coaching intern with Wareham this summer and I decided to reach out to Kayla to find out more this amazing opportunity. Kayla has already done a ton of interviews this summer and I was so psyched she agreed to let me interview her. Here is an excerpt from our conversation about Rhode Island, how she landed in Wareham, and how to hit a fastball traveling 90 mph.
RIBBE – Tell me a little bit about your Rhode Island sports and more specifically baseball roots – Little League? AAU? A travel team?
Kayla – I grew up playing softball in the Smithfield softball league. I played Rec ball starting when I was 7. I then played travel ball for Smithfield Storm and played 1 season of Little League Fall ball. Around the age of 12, I went on to play travel softball for the RI Thunder organization.
RIBBE – What was that experience like?
Kayla – It was a great experience playing for my town, building a great community. As I grew, I moved to Thunder taking my game to the next level, playing on a bigger scale. My coach Dave Lotti was an avid baseball watcher and everything he taught us was from that knowledge. He would give us IQ tests and homework to watch baseball. That is the main reason for my high baseball IQ. Overall, this experience has led me to be the player/coach I am today
RIBBE – If you would like to, name some of your sports and life mentors who helped you along the way.
Kayla – I have had many mentors throughout my life. In terms of baseball, my biggest mentors would have to be Kelly Rodman and Rachel Balkovec. These women have helped set the path for me and young girls everywhere to achieve our dreams to work in Major League Baseball. When I first started the idea of coaching baseball, I went to a baseball convention where I heard Kelly speak in Connecticut, winter of 2019. She spoke about her experiences being one of the first female head scouts for the Yankees and had a chance to speak with her after the convention and she was very supportive of my dreams, telling me to reach out whenever I needed her. Months later, I reached out for advice and found out that she had passed away from Breast cancer which shows that even in her final days she was inspiring girls to follow their dreams. I was also fortunate enough to have a mentorship with Rachel over the last winter and because of that I have learned what I need to do to be successful and we still keep in touch today.
RIBBE – What position do you typically play in the field? If you were filling out the lineup card, what position would you pencil yourself in for?
Kayla – I play MIF and OF. Try to play wherever I’m needed to help the team.
RIBBE – I remember from your video at Upper Deck, the one where you were hitting baseballs going over 90 mph with ease, that you bat left handed. Do you recall that hitting session and how that felt hitting those wicked fast baseballs, one after the other?
Kayla – Of course that hitting session was a lot of fun. I was doing that session with a lot of baseball players. I walked out of GLG (the gym inside of Upper Deck) and saw all of the college players that were home from break and they wanted to see if I could take some swings. They gave me their bat which was way too heavy and I took the first couple pitches for timing and then started to swing and had no issues with the velocity. It was funny to see the reactions of all of the baseball guys because I was a girl. In my opinion, I don’t think anyone would be shocked if a guy walked into the cage and did what I did.
RIBBE – Brag a little bit – what was your favorite sports moment growing up?
Kayla – When my Rhode Island Thunder softball team finished top 8 in the Boulder, Colorado IDT tournament.
RIBBE – What is your current position in the Cape Cod Baseball League and with which team?
Kayla – I am an on-field coaching intern with the Wareham Gatemen.
RIBBE – Were you recruited by CCBL or did you have to apply for that internship?
Kayla – I sent my resume and cover letter to various teams in the CCBL and the Gatemen was the only team to respond to my email.
RIBBE – Briefly describe your day to day work schedule. Meetings, on field work, game prep, is it a 9-5 type day or longer?
Kayla – I commute every day to Wareham. I typically leave around 2 in the afternoon to get there for 3pm early work for players that want pre-work. I do anything from hitting fungos, to throwing batting practice, to asking them about their philosophies to remind them of what they are good at. Closer to game time, I throw pregame BP on the field and once I get the opposing team’s lineup, I go through the scouting reports from their past college season and I fill out a spray chart so the coaches know the hitter’s tendencies. For home games, I line and prepare the field for game time. During the games, the interns switch off responsibilities from pitching charts, bullpen, and other responsibilities. After the games, we clean up the field and fix the mound which usually is around 11. Then after my hour commute home I get home at 12.
RIBBE – Having seen you hit a 90 mph fastball, how much time does your mind and your body have to recognize a pitch, get moving towards the pitcher, and then swing and then of course, hit the baseball?
Kayla – For hitters, it takes milliseconds to recognize pitches to be able to hit high velocity. That is why it is so important to have an efficient swing.
RIBBE – What role does video analysis play in your role as hitting instructor?
Kayla – Video analysis has a great impact on instructors and players where you can combine look and feel to help the mind/muscle connection and learning cues as well. Using other technologies such as Blast and Rapsodo with video is most optimal to be able to see holes in swings that are not seen with the naked eye. Honestly, my favorite part of video is that when you are struggling, you can watch video from when you were successful to see changes and provide confidence to your swing that may be lacking.
RIBBE – When you are working with a hitter, what other tools/equipment are you using to make them better? Like hitting off a tee, soft toss, do you use pitching machines, or is it just live pitching?
Kayla – I like to do a lot of work with moving balls to represent game-like scenarios with technology like Blast and Rapsodo (whatever the hitter’s like the best).
RIBBE – Put your coach’s hat on. You have a left handed batter who is struggling with fastballs on the inside part of the plate. Changeups and off speed pitches in and away are no problem. But those inside heaters are really becoming an issue. Teams are starting to take notice and are really driving the baseball on the inside corner. Your batter is late and swinging and missing badly. What are some things you can work on to get this batter quicker to those inside fastballs?
Kayla – My first question to the hitter would be about their approach at the plate. Sitting offspeed? Being on time for offspeed but late on inside heaters sounds like the hitter needs to change their approach. Giving advice as back off the plate a little to adjust for the inside fastball. Without knowing what the hitter’s swing is, the only instruction revolves around his approach and what he is looking for when he gets up to the plate.
RIBBE – Where can fans follow you this summer as you continue your internship with the Wareham Gatemen?
Kayla – Fans can follow me by coming to games where the schedule is found on the Wareham Gateman website or by following my twitter account (@kbabby3) where I post content everyday about my journey in the Cape Cod league.
I look forward to reading Kayla’s Twitter posts about her coaching involvement and baseball journey with the Wareham Gatemen. They are fun and informative and inspiring to say the least. It is so awesome to see a Rhode Island native and top notch student-athlete making a huge impact in such a prestigious summer baseball league like the Cape Cod Baseball League. I may not know how to hit a baseball traveling 90 mph, but one thing I know for sure – Kayla has a bright future in coaching. Big thank you to Kayla Baptista and continued success this summer as an on-field coaching intern with the Wareham Gatemen.