When you walk into Velo Baseball and Softball Academy, you feel like you’re in a big city. Graffiti covers the walls behind the three batting cages and pitching lanes, and co-founder Jim Freire, a New York City native, is quick to point out two of his favorite graffiti pieces on the wall. One is of James Earl Jones in the movie “Sandlot” with the quote “Baseball was life, and I was good at it.” The other is a scene from the movie “Field of Dreams.”
“It’s a neat place to come to,” Jim said.
Jim and his son, Matt Freire, a 2009 Western Hills High School graduate, opened the training facility in April 2021.
“The murals mix in some of our love for New York City and gives it a big city field,” Matt said. “I wanted the space to be attractive, so kids would come in and tell their mom and dad that they want to come back. The graffiti brings energy and life with it.”
Jim grew up in New York City, but didn’t play baseball until he was in high school. He served as the pitcher. After high school, he was drafted into the Army, where he also played baseball while serving in the Vietnam War.
After the Army, he played semi-pro baseball in Colorado Springs, Colorado. Thirty years ago, around the time Matt was born, Jim and his family moved to Frankfort.
When Matt was one year old, Jim said he began throwing a baseball — and he hasn’t stopped.
“I was hungry to play,” Matt said. “I wanted to play all of the time. He was always willing to throw, hit, toss and run with me.”
Matt started with playing T-ball at the Frankfort YMCA and then with Frankfort Parks, Recreation and Historic Sites. He also played travel baseball and at WHHS. After graduating high school in 2009, Matt played for four years at Centre College and for a year at Kentucky State University.
Through his childhood years of playing baseball, Jim served as Matt’s coach at various times. Jim has also coached at Anderson County High School, Frankfort Middle School, Elkhorn Middle School and Cornerstone Christian Academy. He currently coaches the 13 and under team with the Bluegrass Baseball Club. He is one of the founding members of the BBC organization and currently sits on the board of directors. As an adult, Matt has also helped his dad coach.
“I played all of my life,” Jim said, “and right now, I love teaching kids. I didn’t have the opportunity in NYC to learn at a young age.”
When Matt was growing up, if he wanted to do special baseball training, Jim had to drive him to facilities in Lexington and Louisville, which they quickly found the burden of. Having a facility in Frankfort was something Jim and Matt thought the community could benefit from.
“We thought that could happen here,” Matt said. “Instead of leaving town, they could get the training they wanted here.”
Matt, who also serves an associate financial advisor for WesBanco Securities and works in real estate, started looking at buildings with his father about a year ago.
“He evaluated every building we drove past by how many baseball nets we could fit in it,” Matt said. “He’s always wanted to do this.”
They settled on an office building in Building C at 1007 Twilight Trail, and got busy renovating the space to accommodate their needs.
The baseball and training facility offers state-of-the-art equipment, three batting cages and three pitching lanes that can all be collapsed to provide more space for speed and agility sessions or fielding lessons, according to the Velo website, www.kyvelo.com.
With a staff of more than 20, Velo offers individual and group baseball lessons that focus on fielding, hitting, catching and pitching. There are also agility lessons.
The staff consists of former local high school baseball players and current collegiate players. Staff members include former Franklin County High School catcher Zack Arnold who went on to play at the University of Kentucky after high school; former FCHS player TA Crumbaugh who pitched for Volunteer State Community College after high school; former WHHS softball player Tabitha Barnes who played for Asbury College after high school; former WHHS player Andy Fisher who served as the starting catcher for Kentucky State University; and more. A full list of staff is available at kyvelo.com.
“A lot of talented players have come through Franklin County and found themselves at one of the high schools here,” Matt said.
Andy, who has been friends with Matt since middle school, works mainly with the 9-12 year olds.
“I love building relationships with the kids,” Andy said, “and seeing them grow and develop over time. It’s a satisfying feeling.”
Matt said, even as big as the staff is now, there is room to grow. If they get more staff, his hopes are to offer more lessons and increase their hours.
“Something we have going for us is retention,” Matt said. “When someone walks in here for the first time, they come back. We see new faces every week. I see us continuing to grow and our coaches building relationships and the kids wanting to come back and work with them.”
Building relationships by sharing the love of baseball is something Matt puts an importance on.
“Nearly all of my best friends and most meaningful relationships started on a baseball field,” he said.
Along with lessons, Matt and Jim open the facility up for team rentals. One team that utilizes the facility is the 2011 Capital City Crush softball team coached by Jeremy Roberts. They have been renting space since the facility opened.
“This has been a key asset for our team,” Roberts said. “We bring the girls in here out of the elements and work on mechanics. We practice year round with them.
“Frankfort needed this and these guys are giving a great service to the community.”
Matt and Jim also collaborate with other organizations in town, like Just Say Yes, which provides Yes Cards to students to be used for out-of-school activities.
“A Yes Card is an electronic gift card that can be used to pay for out-of-school time (OST) activities from a list of approved providers in Franklin County,” according to the Franklin County Health Department’s website, fchd.org. “It is a cornerstone of Just Say Yes, a comprehensive youth substance use prevention initiative launched in Franklin County in 2020 with a grant from the Kentucky Department of Public Health and the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.”
Matt and Jim have set a variety of financial and business goals for Velo, but their main goal focuses on the athletes.
“We want every Velo athlete to make their school team and compete for a starting spot,” Matt said.