About Next Level Ballplayer

NLB is A place where serious ballplayers, parents and coaches can learn from the best baseball minds in the world

Hey Franco, Why Did You Start Next Level Ballplayer?

When my college baseball career ended and no MLB teams called and asked for my services, I knew my playing days were over.

Though my dream had always been to play in the Big Leagues, I eventually came to grips with that fact that I needed to “move on”, but “moving on” without baseball seemed inconceivable…

When I was ballplayer growing up, if I could have had anything, I would have wanted instruction and advice from Big League players and top college coaches.

During my college career at Miami University, I had the opportunity to play with over 20 ballplayers who were eventually drafted (3 went on to play in the Big Leagues) and be coached by some of the best.

Between those connections and the other friendships I developed in college and professional baseball, I was in a place to make NLB a reality…

Everything you’ll find here is geared to help serious ballplayers, parents and coaches get better.

Our NLB Community

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Meet the NLB team.

Franco at Safeco

Franco

CEO, Founder/GM

My approach to the game of baseball is much more than my personal baseball experience.

Over the years, I’ve been blessed to learn from some of the top baseball players and coaches in the game…

…and have worked with and interviewed numerous top MLB players and successful coaches at every level.

I never set out to be a professional baseball coach, but when the Mariners reached out and offered me a job (fall of 2016), it was a no brainer. 

Being a Mental Skills Coach for the Seattle Mariners is an absolute dream job… 

And hopefully illustrates the value of daily looking for opportunities to learn and great people to learn from. 

Next Level Ballplayer is your opportunity to learn from some of the best like I did.

Go get it!

Gary “g” Russo

Manager/Head of Sales & Partnerships

I came to NLB after recently wrapping up my college baseball career at Miami University (OH).

I recently participated in the 2016 College Home Run Derby after finishing top 5 in career homeruns at Miami University after only 3 seasons.

I love dissecting the biomechanics of elite hitter’s swings and I am constantly preaching about the kinetic chain.

I’m a die-hard Cardinals fan and love reminding Franco about the heartache my Cards have caused his Dodgers in recent years.

Beware of putting on the bunt sign around me, you will get called out.

That’s a picture of me Participating in the College HR Derby.

That’s me (on the left) and Franco hanging with Red Sox’ Coach Fenster after an NLB interview.

Jimmy Keane

Firstbase Coach/Head of Customer Service

I’ve been a part of NLB for the last two years and shared numerous hotel rooms with Franco.

I’m a die hard Red Sox fan… and yes I have a Boston accent (no bandwagon fan here!)

I recently was given the opportunity to become the Head HS Coach at my alma-mater in the Atlanta area where I now spend most of my time reminding my players how good I was when I led our high school team to its last state championship. #GloryDays

Matty “Ice” Hojsik

Advanced Scount/Tech Master

Once Franco found out that I did a couple of DJ gigs in college as DJ Matty Ice, he hasn’t called me by my regular name since…

I’m not sure why my DJ career didn’t take off, but now I have a much cooler job by providing the tech support for NLB.

I grew up in New York during the Yankees’ glory days, and long for them to get back to being a staple in the World Series.

There’s two types of people in the world: those that love Jeter and those that lie about it.

My life isn’t the same without Jeets.

That’s me (on the left) with Franco on Wrigley Field after a Cubs game.

Matty “Ballgame” Price

Bench Coach/Partnership Rep

I got the nickname Matty Ballgame from Dan Harren while we were playing together my freshman year at Pepperdine University…
And when Danny Harren gives you a nickname, you keep it!

I eat, drink, breathe, and sleep baseball- it’s in my blood. I met Franco while throwing BP to a handful of MLB players in the off-season and once I found out about NLB, I knew I wanted to be a part of it.

Brand Ambassadors

 

Joey Hawkins

Joey Hawkins attended Sinclair Secondary School in Whitby, Ontario (he is living confirmation hockey isn’t the only sport up in Canada). 

 

Hawkins went on to play collegiately at Missouri State University where he finished as the 2015 NCAA leader, the all-time conference leader, and all-time school leader in sacrifice bunts and also started 157 consecutive games on the Bears infield. You won’t come across too many people on this planet that have bunted more than Hawk; we can promise you that!

 

Hawkins was selected by the St. Louis Cardinals in the 40th Round of the 2015 MLB Draft and has two professional seasons under his belt reaching as far as Double-A in the Texas League.

 

Hawkins spends his off seasons in both Ontario and Missouri giving back to youth baseball through youth camps and private instruction. 

 

 

 

 

Chris Chinea

 

 Chris Chinea (teammate to Joey Hawkins in the St. Louis Cardinals system) eats, sleeps, and dreams about baseball.  He had an extremely successful college career for LSU where he was named a third-team All-American and Second-Team All SEC in his final season. 

 

He has played two years in professional baseball and has yet to hit below .300 at any level.  It’s safe to say Chris loves to hit!

 

Chris spends his offseason in Florida and has no idea what it’s like for it to be “too cold” to play baseball.  He is very active in his hometown during the offseason working youth camps and providing private instruction to kids all ages. 

 

Tate Matheny

Tate Matheny had the pleasure of playing alongside fellow brand ambassador Joey Hawkins at Missouri State and came within a game of going to the College World Series in his final year as a college player. 

 

He was selected in the 4th round of the 2015 MLB Draft by the Boston Red Sox after a successful college career where he earned multiple team MVP’s and got to represent his home country playing for Team USA during the summer of 2014.    

 

     In the offseason, Tate provides hitting lessons to youth players in St. Louis and enjoys spending time with his family and hunting.  Tate is one of the best hitters to come out of the St. Louis area (his high school numbers look like video game stats) and loves going oppo taco whenever he can. 

 

He has never been afraid to use the whole field!  Tate has had the pleasure of growing up in big league clubhouses his entire life: his father is former gold-glove catcher and current St. Louis Cardinals manager Mike Matheny.

 

Hey Franco, How Do You Get All These Interviews?

The answer – God blessed me with a lot of great baseball contacts who have been generous in helping me get started.

Since then we have just rode the momentum and positive feedback from both our viewers and the interviewees.

We recently had a D1 coach say that he has certain NLB articles printed out and highlighted for his players…

And just this past year we had multiple college coaches reach out to us to do an interview.

It’s been a really cool and humbling experience watching NLB grow and develop.

I’ve almost quit a few times for a variety of reasons, but with our new team in place I’m excited to take NLB to the “next level” (excuse my poor pun!).

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