Political commentator George Will once wrote, “Baseball, it is said, is only a game. True. And the Grand Canyon is only a hole in Arizona.” After spending just a few minutes talking with Maximum Impact Performance founder Blake Knight about the game and what it means to him, you’d be forgiven if you mistakenly attributed that quote to him.
“This game is in our blood. It’s my family lineage,” he said. “My grandfather played professional ball and was later a scout, so from a young age it was a passion and love he instilled in me.
“He often said the secret to knowing when you had a real chance to be good at this game was when you hated losing more than you enjoyed winning. That has always stuck with me.”
A player through the 1980s, Knight is all too familiar with the level of talent developed in Saline County and the players who have gone to play at the college, professional, and major league levels. “It has always been that way,” he said. “It just seems to be in the water out here, and there’s always a stream of talent that has been pulled from this area of Arkansas.”
Knight’s family has contributed to that Saline County baseball factory with the success of his oldest son, Blaine Knight, who pitched for the Arkansas Razorbacks from 2016 to 2018 and was a 3rd round draft pick of the Baltimore Orioles in 2018. Knight’s younger son, Braden, is currently a third baseman and pitcher at National Park College in Hot Springs.
However, from the early days of riding the roads scouting young talent with his grandfather to coaching and developing his own sons, Knight recognized that the game was changing, evolving into something much different than what he’d grown up with. He’d also begun noticing that young players who might have aspirations of playing at a higher level weren’t being developed very well.
“I’ve seen these changes at every possible level, from youth ball to professional baseball, and it makes me love it even more,” he said. “To not want to give something back would just be wrong.”
In 2015, Knight took that next step and established Maximum Impact Performance, Saline County’s first baseball and fast pitch softball training center designed to improve player fundamentals and understanding within their respective sports.
“When I was younger, it was about getting on the mound and throwing the ball,” he said. “Today, with the help of technology, we’re able to break a kid down from the ground up and work on mechanics, body positioning and arm motion without the guessing.
“The same thing applies with hitting. A player may have been taught to hit a certain way for years and may not want to change. Maybe he hit .300 throughout the youth leagues he’s played in. Well, that’s ok, but we have to ask, ‘Do you want to keep things where they are, or do you want to improve what you’ve got and get better?’”
In addition to making improvements with hitting and pitching, players with Maximum Impact also develop their position and fielding skills. From first base to center field, Knight says each fielder requires specialization and understanding. That means each player must be coached differently, yet still fit seamlessly with his or her eight teammates on the field.
“You certainly don’t bring along a catcher the way you do a shortstop,” he said. “They’re all different with specific mentalities and responsibilities. A catcher’s role is more in depth because he has to be aware of his pitcher, the positioning of his fielders and the batter. It’s more complex than the short stop or outfielder, but all are leaders on the field in different ways.”
What’s more, and in some cases more challenging, Knight says, is that young players today struggle with how to “think” about the game.
“A lot of players really struggle with their ‘Baseball IQ.’ When a player has been told his entire life his only job is to get in the batter’s box and hit the ball as hard as possible, you have to back up and show him a different approach. You have to show him what he does well, what pitches he’s best at handling and which ones to let pass. That allows him to step in, look for those pitches where he’s strongest and create opportunities where he can square it up.
“You’d be amazed how many players I’ve seen through the years who get so frustrated because they get to the plate and have no idea what they’re doing,” Knight added. “Reteaching a solid plate approach really takes time.”
And when it comes to working with players on developing their craft, Knight says it’s often his female athletes who take things more seriously.
“Girls are wired differently from boys,” he said. “As athletes, they have a very different mentality. They listen better, apply their coaching better and are better disciplined. I’d say the biggest difference is that they pay closer attention to details than my ball players and often expect more from themselves. I’ve had many girls who were the toughest athletes I coached.”
For more information on classes and opportunities, go to www.maximpactperformance.com or call 501.722.3517.”