MUNHALL, Penn. – This is a story about baseball. A baseball instructor, specifically.
But it starts first with that of a Scottish immigrant named Andrew Carnegie. An immigrant who led the enormous expansion of the American steel industry in the late 19th century and built a leadership role as a philanthropist for America and the British Empire, giving away about $350 million to charities and enterprises over the course of his life.
Fast forward a little over 100 years and we get to Brian Barca. Let’s talk about how his baseball and softball facility – Training KAMP – is at the forefront of cutting-edge training and instruction.
Let’s also talk about how Barca’s focus on the mental side of the game has separated him from his peers, and how he turned a bowling alley in the basement of a library into a multi-purpose training facility.
But before before we get to Barca, let’s take quick detour to discuss Mr. Carnegie and see how these two men – one who left his mark on Pittsburgh, the other currently leaving his mark on the Steel City – are tied together.
You can’t push anyone up the ladder unless he is ready to climb himself. Do your duty and a little more, and the future will take care of itself.” – Andrew Carnegie
Sitting high atop a steep, cresting hill overlooking the borough of Homestead – just a few miles from the banks of the Monongahela River – rests the Carnegie Library.
Founded by philanthropist and industrialist Andrew Carnegie in 1896 and opened in 1898, the Carnegie Library of Homestead was the sixth library commissioned by Carnegie in the U.S. and the seventh to open.
It is currently the third oldest Carnegie library in continuous operation in its original structure in the U.S. Operation of the library was originally funded by Carnegie’s steel plant in Homestead. After the sale of his business to U.S. Steel in 1901, Carnegie established a $1 million trust to support the library, along with two other libraries established in Pittsburgh.
The French Renaissance designed building holds over 34,000 volumes of books, houses a 1,000-seat music hall, and also features an athletic club with a heated indoor pool. It was at that very pool where four U.S. Olympians (Susan Laird, Josephine McKim, Anna Mae Gorman and Lenore Kight) trained in the 1920s and 1930s. Between them, they combined to win five Olympic medals for the United States, including two gold medals.
Moreover, in 1900 and 1901 the Homestead Library & Athletic Club football team, composed of many former star Ivy League players, won back-to-back pro football championships, fielding “the best professional football team in the country.” Additionally, the amateur teams at the library also won national championships in wrestling and track & field.
“The building has rightfully in the center as the focus ‘The Library’– Music Hall upon the right and the Working Man’s Club upon the left. These three foundations from which healing waters are to flow for the Instruction, Entertainment and Happiness of the people. Recreation of the working man has an important bearing upon his character and development as his hours of work.” – Andrew Carnegie
Situated just around the corner from the indoor pool where the future and current Olympians of Pittsburgh once trained is Training KAMP, Brian Barca’s baseball and softball training facility.
As one of the most highly respected and sought-after instructional facilities in Western Pennsylvania, Training KAMP (an acronym for Knowledge And Mental Preparation), boasts multiple clients who will travel multiple hours in order to take part in a 30-minute lesson.
As owner, operator, and lead instructor of Training KAMP, Barca, a youthful looking 32-year old who can dispense knowledge better than some twice his age, has taken an old, dilapidated space and turned it into a self-sustaining, multipurpose facility for an invigorated, baseball-rich community.
What was once a former duckpin bowling alley is now a multi-purpose training facility, featuring the Pro Batter PX2 Baseball Video Simulator, the only one of its kind in a Western Pennsylvania facility aside from those that the Pittsburgh Pirates train in.
But what sets Barca and his facility apart from others, is the way he approaches and teaches the mental side of the game.
“Baseball is ninety percent mental and the other half is physical.” – Yogi Berra
Over the course of a conversation, Barca will talk about such things as brain performance, cognitive training and “making sure one is not regulated by external circumstances.”
He’ll discuss thinking inside out, as opposed to thinking outside in. He’ll point out that one must understand replacing a negative thought with a positive thought, means you’re acknowledging the negative thought had control of you in the first place.
He’ll talk about the state of mind you’re in when a certain behavior originated, not the behavior that’s actually occurring.
Have we talked about baseball yet?
Sort of. Let Barca explain…
“I was always interested in the why of what happened,” Barca explains between lessons at Training KAMP. “Over time, from asking that question over and over again, I got to a place where I’m really confident in my approach and how we teach. It was a constant pursuit of understanding.”
In fact, Barca is currently writing a book on the mental side of the game.
But hold that thought for a second…
Let’s first find out how Barca arrived to this point.
Born and raised in Pittsburgh, Barca started playing baseball when he was four years old, organized baseball at seven.
Right from the start, like any successful young athlete, Barca’s parents had a huge influence on the outcome of his baseball career. But not in the way one would think.
“My parents would just say, “Did you have fun today? We loved watching you play”,” Barca remembers. “That’s it. No one ever asked why did I only get two hits instead of three and why couldn’t I hit this pitcher when he wasn’t throwing that fast. If my parents were harder on me, micromanaged things, I wouldn’t have Training KAMP right now. No way.”
From there, Barca played high school ball at Steel Valley before becoming a three-way player as a pitcher, outfielder and shortstop for Point Park University.
After graduating with a bachelor’s degree in Sports, Art & Entertainment, Barca interned with the Pittsburgh Pirates in the baseball operations side of the organization, working primarily in scouting & player development, while also assisting in free agency.
After his internship was over, he worked for a sports marketing company in Pittsburgh, before moving to Los Angeles to put his degree to use in the vast entertainment industry that is housed in Southern California.
After meeting some well-regarded industry contacts upon his first week in L.A., Barca started studying human behavior and taking acting classes under the tutelage of Howard Fine, one of the top coaches in the entertainment industry.
During the day, Barca was a school teacher in order to supplement his income as he worked toward breaking through in the industry.
But after about a year of living in L.A., Barca had an epiphany of sorts, brought upon by the Writer’s Guild Strike.
After originally getting the teaching job as a second-thought, Barca realized just how much he enjoyed being a teacher. With the writers on strike, and him not being able to make any headway in Hollywood, he decided to move back to Pittsburgh to become a full-time teacher.
Upon his return Barca got his Pennsylvania teaching certificate and started working with kids of all different age levels, from preschool up to middle school. As more and more parents started asking specifically for Barca to teach their kids, as he said, “I knew i was onto something.”
Barca started saving money with the intention of eventually turning his teachings toward baseball. Soon enough, he and his father approached the folks at the Carnegie Library of Homestead with the intention of turning the former bowling alley into a full-fledged facility.
Due to the lack of funding, combined with the financial crash of 2008, the library had no means by which to repair the area, meaning Barca had carte blanche to do what he wanted with the space.
From there, Training KAMP was born in 2012.
“By the time I got to college I didn’t have it figured out. The one area that was troublesome area for me was hitting. My coaches would change things in my stance, but that wasn’t the problem. I had hit my whole life. It was actually about timing, approach, pitch recognition. They didn’t talk about those things. By the time I was 25, 26, I figured out those things on my own and within my teaching I made that my priority.” – Brian Barca
A typical exchange between Barca and a student goes something like this…
Barca: “Has anybody ever told you to get your elbow up or use your hips?”
Barca: “Have you ever tried to do something you couldn’t do, but were asked to do and you were really trying your best to do it?”
Barca: “How did it make you feel?”
Student: “Like I wanted to quit”
“The approach we take is a matter of an understanding of how your mind works,” Barca explains. “Your thoughts are going to travel no matter what. You have to accept that. Kids have a real fear of striking out. If they understand there is a value in what pitches you can and can’t hit – if they treated it like that – they’re going to get better a lot quicker. There’s a value to everything, but we have to be careful of the value we assign to these things, such as strike three.”
“Your whole life people are telling you to think positive. But when you’re thinking negative and trying to replace it with a positive, it really doesn’t work because all you’re doing is acknowledging the negative thought had ahold of you and control of you in the first place. Behavior is inside out, not outside in.”
If the crux of Barca’s teaching approach is creating a strong, self-sustaining mental game, the other half is taking that positive mentality and applying it to actual hitting.
And that is where the PX2 comes in.
The PX2 is a pitching machine where a batter sees a video image of a pitcher throwing to them before the ball is released through a hole in the video screen.
As Barca told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette earlier this year, “In my opinion the biggest reason this is important to Western Pennsylvania is it will enhance the way we train players. It will induce confidence in hitting. We specialize in pitch identification. Helping the player understand the timing of hitting a baseball and recognizing the pitches, both speed, spin of the ball and velocity. Every player we work with is training on the machine.”
“I never take it for granted. It’s a blessing to do this.” – Brian Barca
Barca says Training KAMP’s philosophy is to help players look inward to find the comfort needed to be free and trust their talent and be in an environment fostered by coaches that embrace this principle is vital. The days of the dictator coach, he says, are over. According to Barca, a player must understand the power of their own thinking in order to play the game with a clear state of mind. Players can create a reality, he says, that allows them to stay within themselves and allow their talent to take over.
As Carnegie once said: The man who acquires the ability to take full possession of his own mind may take possession of anything else to which he is justly entitled.
Or did Brian Barca say that…