SOUTH BELOIT - When ex-Beloit Snapper Joe Bennie retired from professional baseball in 2017 it marked the end of a dream.
"Now I have a better dream," Bennie says.
The first part of his new dream involves being a family man. For the first time since high school, he isn't on the road pursuing his passion to play pro baseball. He's able to enjoy life with his wife Miaya and infant son.
"I had fun playing baseball, but being away from my family was going to be rough," he said. "It was time to move on and enjoy family life."
He thanks his wife for reminding him that he didn't have to give up his first dream entirely. He just had to reboot it.
"Miaya told me I should train kids in baseball," Bennie said. "I started with one lesson last April and then a few more at the Snappers batting cages. Now we have a full-blown facility of our own and over 100 clients. I guess it was meant to be."
Joe Bennie, 27, and his brother Robert now operate Bennie Triple Crown Baseball, a program operating out of spanking new training facility at 15760 Willowbrook Round in South Beloit. It's affectionatelly known as "The Black Hole" for its color scheme.
"We will do training, provide lessons, do coaches' and players' clinics," Joe said. "We also have two travel teams called the Bennie Elite Teams, 10-U and 11U. Our entire focus is player development."
The facility has a training area as well as two batting cages. The Bennies also partnered with Adidas to provide gear and apparel. Bennie said he owes a debt of gratitude to his father-in-law, Robert Rollette, who handled much of the construction of the facility, which was completed in December.
Joe says the baseball academy "will take some kids from their first swings in T-ball on up the college ranks. We train kids as young as 5. And we helped (UW-Whitewater star) Daytona Bryden, who recently signed a pro contract."
Joe and Robert both grew up in Pennsylvania and credit their love for baseball as well as their aptitude to play it to their father.
"Our dad played quality baseball when he was growing up in New York and he taught us the basics," Joe said. "We had asome good coaches we played for in high school and college and in pro ball we both took major leaps. When you're getting coached by guys like Rickey Henderson and Robin Yount, that's pretty good."
While they were coached by their dad, no favoritism was shown.
"If anything our dad was harder on us," Joe said. "We trained harder than anyone else. We practiced six days a week."
The philosophy of hard work is reflected in Bennie Triple Crown Baseball as well as its travel teams.
"Baseball isn't a pick it up and be good at it sport," Joe said. " It's a repetition-based sport. We got to where we were because of our work ethic. We were never the most talented, but we were the hardest workers. We got the most out of our abilities.
"Our travel teams won't focus on the wins or trophies. A lot of programs are obsessed with trophies. We're more about player development. We'll train twice as much as we play. That's a recipe for future success."
Joe played at LaSalle University as well as Stroudsburg University in Pennsylvania before being selected by the Oakland A's in the 28th round of the 2013 draft. He spent the summer of 2015 playing second base with the Snappers, where he met Miaya, who was an intern with the ballclub.
Joe had a solid year with Beloit and an even better one with Stockton in 2016, hitting .302 with 11 home runs and 31 doubles. He spent 2017 in Double A ball in Midland, Texas, where he battled injuries and inactivity for a season and a half before asking for his release.
It was basically the same story for his brother Robert, who was a Division II All-American outfielder at Stroudsburg before being drafted by the A's. He also retired in 2017.
Now they have a shared dream.
"We want to be the best in the area and I think we will be because we're the most qualified," Joe said. "People pay a lot of money to put their kid in a program so you have to deliver on it. When kids sign up I tell their parents this is an investment for the future because our goal is to get them ready for the next step whatever that is. It could be a bigger field, or it could be high school or college. Our goal is to be with them every step of the way.
"I tell the kids all the time we have the practice plans structured the same as we had in pro ball. Everything you are doing is what we were doing at the professional level. It might seem boring, but the quality of repetition is what gets it done. It's not fancy drills or fancy machines. It's doing the right thing over and over again."
Their young hitting disciples wear T-shirts that state "No Ground Ball Squad."
"A lot of coaches emphasize ground balls at the younger levels because at 10 years old the fielders are making errors or the balls are squeaking through to win games," Joe said. "But when you move up in three years those balls are outs. We'll sacrifice a few flyball outs or pop-ups now, when you get bigger and stronger it's going to translate.
"You have to teach kids at as early age as possible the right way to do things."