ANN ARBOR – Alan Oaks knows what it takes to get beyond the high school level in baseball and now he wants to instill that knowledge in the next generation of players in Ann Arbor.
Oaks, a former University of Michigan pitcher and minor league player, took over as president of the Ann Arbor A’s – a youth travel baseball program based in Ann Arbor – this year and has begun to revamp the program in hopes of growing the sport in the area, while also servicing players at a higher rate.
Oaks, who also coaches within the program, played four years for the Wolverines and was eventually drafted by the Florida Marlins and played seven years in the minor leagues before he discovered his true calling of guiding the youth.
During his professional playing days, Oaks would come back and train at Michigan and slowly got connected with the A’s where he began working with teams while also conducting private lessons.
That experience led to Oaks sticking around long term with the program and most recently replacing Dyke Mcewen as the organization’s president with the goal of taking the A’s to even greater heights.
“I realized how much gratification I got out of it,” Oaks said.
Oaks has since committed most of his time to growing the game in Ann Arbor because he could sense that baseball wasn’t a top priority for many athletes across the area.
To put the game on the athletes’ radar, Oaks has taken on the challenge of creating awareness for athletes and a building a space for them to develop their skills.
“I didn’t want to get too involved with it, but it’s kind of where my heart led me because I could see that there’s such a need in Ann Arbor for baseball,” Oaks said. “There’s a lot of baseball but the kids are just lacking the resources and the facilities and the knowledge and just the overall structure to get them involved.”
Though many players from the A’s have gone on to play for the three varsity teams in the area in Pioneer, Skyline and Huron, Oaks is hopeful those numbers will grow over time.
Inside the A’s
The program, which oversees 17 teams from 8U through 14U, has turned over a new leaf under Oaks.
The organization has a board of directors including UofM Regent Paul Brown and Michigan baseball coach Erik Bakich, along with an all-paid coaching program, a new long-term development plan for players, community outreach programs, a financial assistance program and new uniforms.
Oaks also opened a 10,000-square foot facility named South State Sports in February, which houses multiple training areas for pitching, fielding and hitting along with an area for dynamic warmups, team meetings and classroom sessions.
The facility will accommodate the A’s, while also serving as a baseball instruction center for private and group lessons for all players regardless of age or skill level.
In addition, the program has upped its social media presence and inked a deal with Wilson Sporting Goods Company for new uniforms and baseball equipment, with the hopes of drawing more interest to the program.
The organization has also begun conversations about building a high school-sized turf field adjacent to the South State Sports facility to accommodate the A’s as well.
While Oaks has done a great deal of improvements to the A’s, there’s still work to be done.
Oaks said the program is still looking to hire more coaches for its teams, which has been a challenge due to a lack of awareness.
“I feel like the biggest struggle is people don’t know who the Ann Arbor A’s are in Ann Arbor,” Oaks said. “That’s the ultimate goal – to bring awareness to it. I feel like there are a lot of good baseball people in the area that could help, and I want them to help.”
The A’s are currently in season until late July and early August for some teams and the program will conduct tryouts for the teams from 8U through 11U for the 2022 season on Aug. 7-8, with dates for the remaining teams yet to be determined.
Teams will begin skill development training in December for the 2022 season and the season will start in April.
“The ultimate thing is it’s about the kids,” Oaks said. “All any parent wants to see is their kid do well.”
Taking the next step
Oaks said his vision for the organization is heading in the right direction thanks to the help of the board and those who have aided in the program’s growth.
He added he foresees a bright future for the organization with more exposure.
“It’s definitely on the right path,” he said. “I can’t do all of this on my own, so assembling the team that we have has been really good.”
While having successful teams on the field will be important, for Oaks, helping the players develop on and off the field will continue to be the main goal for the organization.
“Yeah, you want to win, but it doesn’t matter if you win,” Oaks said. “Yeah, you want to know the score, but the score doesn’t matter. It’s really all about having fun, staying involved in the game, playing multiple sports and really just trying to be the best athlete you can be.
“When you become a good athlete, you can do whatever you want down the road, but at a young age, if you don’t develop those skills along the way, then it’s hard to go back and get those skills. If we can provide that for them, then that will be great.”