Business is booming for youth coach Martin
Updated: September 24, 2012 6:25AM
When Zach Martin was in elementary school, someone told him he would make a good baseball coach.
More than a dozen years later, Martin is in business — and with the man who spoke those prescient words to him.
Guess what? Phil Apostle, Martin’s mentor and youth hitting instructor, was right.
Martin is a good coach, if not a great one.
For the second year in a row, he guided the Glenview-based Academy Elite Nationals to a summer-ending tournament championship. Two weeks ago, the Nationals went 7-0 to win the Diamond Sports Promotion’s World Series at Illinois State University. Last summer, Martin led Academy Elite to a title in Iowa.
“I realized in college that I was not going to go pro,” said the 26-year-old North Shore native. “If I wanted to stay in baseball, I knew I would have to coach. I just had to wrap my head around it.”
A 2003 graduate of New Trier, Martin earned an invitation as a preferred walk-on at Miami University (Ohio) as a pitcher and infielder. But an arm injury, which he hid from his Trevians coaches during his senior season, prevented him from fulfilling that dream.
Martin was relegated to playing for Miami’s club team, but he proved he was one of the best in the country by grabbing All-America recognition. Then, a torn ACL ended his playing days before he graduated.
Instead of stepping away from baseball, Martin started coaching in college and developed a desire that remains with him today. In 2009, Martin and Apostle created Academy Elite, which features several travel teams, including the Nationals.
“We saw a need for alternative programs in the Glenview, Northbrook and North Shore area,” Martin said. “We started this three years ago, and we built it up.”
Academy Elite is just that. Not only does the club attract top talent, it demands more. Martin said the organization requires good grades and a promise to stay out of trouble off the field.
“Our goal is to give them lessons from the age of 9 to when they are 22,” he said. “We treat our kids like pros. It’s an intensely laid-back atmosphere. We treat them with respect, and we expect them to treat us with respect.”
Charlie Apfelbach is one player who’s been with Academy Elite since its inception. Martin likes to think of the recent Glenbrook North graduate as a success story for the club.
“He was a good athlete without direction,” Martin said of the Denison University (Ohio) recruit. “He was one I took under my wing, and watched progress and mature. To see them become young men is a cool experience.”
Apfelbach is one of 12 Nationals who will play college baseball, mostly at NCAA Division III colleges. New Trier graduate Eric West is another.
“I’ve taught Eric since he was young,” Martin said. “He’s an absolute dominant hitter. He’s a Division I bat going to Amherst. They are lucky to have him.”
Another championship or not, Martin will spend the next several weeks contacting colleges about the next crop of Academy Elite players.
“This is a critical time,” he said.