Former Arizona Diamondbacks relief pitcher Mike Fetters stares toward home plate, then whirls and throws the baseball into the dirt beside first base, the perfect spot for the first baseman to tag out an imaginary runner diving back to the bag.
All the while a video camera rolls, documenting the techniques used by Fetters to pick off a runner at first base.
Fetters is one of several former and current major leaguers working with a Scottsdale-based startup company to make sports instructional videos available over the Internet.
“It’s an opportunity to help a kid who could be a million miles away” learn how to play baseball, Fetters said.
Protege Sports, 14350 N. 87th St., is the idea of entrepreneur Ron Shaffer to help anyone with an Internet connection learn the fine points of baseball, golf, tennis, and other sports directly from the pros.
If your kid is having trouble with his stance in the batter’s box, maybe former Angel Tim Salmon can help. Want to improve your basketball jump shot? Get some tips from ex-NBA greats George Gervin or Eddie Johnson.
For $3 the amateur athlete can download video clips from Protege’s Web site, www.protegesportsinc.com, on various aspects of baseball, soccer, football, golf, tennis or basketball. So far, the company has produced more than 500 instruction videos in those sports.
But Protege has taken the concept one step further. Computer users can upload videos of their own swings or shots to the Web site, and one of the pros will analyze the action and create a custom video with advice on how to improve. The computer user is notified by e-mail when the video is ready for viewing in a password-protected section of the Web site. The private lesson includes lines, arrows and side-by-side stop-action frames to show where hands and feet should be during specific moves.
“You really are learning from the pros,” said Kevin Young, former first baseman for the Pittsburgh Pirates and Protege’s baseball director who is helping to line up major leaguers as instructors.
Former Cardinals and Giants catcher Mike Matheny, a four-time Gold Glove winner, decided to participate because it offered an opportunity to share what he learned during a 13-year big-league career with the widest possible audience.
“I’ve had some of the best coaches on the planet, and to keep that knowledge to myself would be a crime,” he said.
Typically, the custom videos run 10 to 15 minutes and cost about $75. But they can cost as much as $500, depending on the instructor and length of the lesson, said Protege Chief Executive Andrew Lombard.
Young said many of the uploaded baseball videos have come from parents who record their kids during Little League games and ask for advice. In return, Young and the other pros can teach the parents how to properly instruct their youngsters, he said.
“The parent becomes an extension of me,” he said. “It’s a way I can help them help their kids.”
Randy Wheaton, a Scottsdale resident who coaches Little League baseball, said personalized videos by Fetters and Young have helped his 11-year-old son, Corey, improve his batting and pitching.
“He watches it right before a game or practice. It helps him refocus on what he needs to do,” Wheaton said.
Protege, which was formed in September, has lined up about 50 athletes so far to serve as advisers and coaches, Lombard said. The players receive a royalty for each of their videos purchased online, he said.
Lombard and Shaffer have plans to add additional sports such as volleyball, softball and even surfing to the mix. Also, the company plans to sell franchises by the end of this year, giving franchisees the right to set up kiosks at stadiums, malls and stores where customers can buy memberships and upload their videos to the Web site.