Leroy Barkley always had a burning passion for the game of baseball.
A native of Graceville, Florida, his love for the diamond began by playing Dixie Youth Baseball as a child. The infielder then showcased his skills at Graceville High School before a stadnout career at George C. Wallace Community College-Dothan in Alabama.
With his blazing speed and the craftiness to make contact, Barkley shattered the Governors’ record books during his two-season stint from 1976-1978. The lefty still holds the single-season (.487 as a freshman) and career batting average record (.471) for Wallace-Dothan. Barkley was the first student-athlete at Wallace-Dothan to become an NJCAA All-American, accomplishing the feat in both of his seasons.
Forty years later, life has come full circle as Barkley is back in Graceville as the new head coach of his high school alma mater, armed with plenty of knowledge to impart on this generation’s youth.
This is Barkley’s first time as a varsity head coach but he’s gained valuable experience as a JV head coach and a varsity assistant. Most recently, in 2015, he was on Graceville’s staff when they captured their first district title in 10 years.
Barkley is highly motivated to propel Graceville to even greater heights under his leadership.
“I bleed orange and black. It means so much to me because I played here,” Barkley said. “It makes me want to do the best I can for this school and my hometown.”
As he prepares his Tigers for the upcoming season, Barkley shared five tips for how to be a successful batter.
“Everyone’s batting stance is unique. A lot of kids want to emulate what they see in Major League Baseball, but you have to find what’s best for you. Some kids you want to teach them to crouch a little bit or have a closed stance or open stance.”
“A lot of times when you see a kid hit you don’t try to change anything; you just try to revise the mechanics.”
“I have them hitting off the tee. With one hand, hold the bat as if you were playing tennis. You get in your batting stance and you turn your hips and swing with one arm. Then you turn around and take your left hand and do the same thing. It’s pretty difficult to do with your left hand if you’re a right-handed hitter. It gives you hand-eye coordination. It will help them in the long run to keep their bat level.”
“You always want your back and your knee and your hips in a straight line. Your head and shoulders should be in a straight line as well. You want your back foot to turn on your toes. You want your hands in a palms up, palms down position. You normally keep your bat in your fingertips. Keep your weight back. You want to be able to swing through the baseball.”
“When I teach kids hitting, there’s certain things that you look for from a pitcher. It’s the way you see the baseball. If you see no spin that means it’s a fastball. If there’s a little circle it’s a breaking ball. There’s not a lot of time to react, but if you can see what’s coming it’s helpful.”
“I think lefties have an advantage because you’re one step closer to first base and you see the ball coming out of their hand quicker. When it’s a right-handed pitcher 95 percent of the time the ball is coming into you as a lefty so you can get a good sense of what’s coming.”
“We need our kids well-conditioned because when the weather gets warmer in March, the kids can get a little tired or your pitcher’s legs can get tired by the fourth or fifth inning. I have them run from one foul pole to the other foul pole. I have them run a lot of sprints, 60-yard dashes. That way it’ll build their stamina up. A lot of coaches believe long-distance running is important. But in reality all you do in baseball are sprints.”