You would guess there’s a Dodger in the house when you step into Dan Gray’s domain at ProSwing Baseball & Softball Training Center in Mount Kisco. High on gymnasium-like walls are outsized painted baseballs bearing the names and uniform numbers of Dodger greats. The names are from a halcyon time when the only performance-enhancing drug favored by players was a cheek-swelling plug of tobacco: Robinson, Wills, Reese, Snider, Koufax, Podres, Campanella, Roseboro.
Those last two luminaries of the Dodger organization were catchers. So too was Dan Gray, though only a fan of Dodger baseball in Class A minor league outposts like Vero Beach and Bakersfield and Great Falls might remember #41 crouched behind the plate.
The kid was a player, though, an athletic standout on the roster of physicists, Nobel Prize laureates and Pulitzer Prize winners that the Bronx High School of Science has graduated. The Bronx-bred son of a construction foreman, Gray went on to play at the State University at Binghamton with a prowess that earned him a niche in the school’s Hall of Fame.
“I was going to be a lawyer,” he says, taking a break from tutoring in the art and science of hitting in a batting cage at ProSwing. But in his junior year Gray was the first Binghamton jock and history major ever to have his name called in the Major League Baseball draft, when Walter O’Malley’s Dodgers picked him in the seventh round.
He played 3½ years in the Dodger farm system and kicked around a few seasons more with a bad shoulder on his throwing arm in independent leagues with teams like the Thunder Bay Whiskey Jacks and Southern Nomadic Miners and Albany Diamond Dogs and Clarksville Coyotes.
“My career ended over a shoulder injury,” he says. He was not the same player after rotator cuff surgery. “My arm was a very big strength of my game.” Dan Gray was no Mike Piazza with a bat in his hand at the plate.
The owner of two ProSwing centers in Westchester County – the other is a converted 25,000-square-foot wine warehouse in Port Chester managed by minority business partner Barry Perlow – Gray fared better than many players whose careers end prematurely. There was no singing the Dodger blues for him. “I was confident that my education and my intelligence were going to allow me to be successful in something else,” he says.
He was still in the Dodger organization when he started his first offseason batting clinic in Binghamton. He moved on to Brewster, where he ran baseball clinics and day camps at an indoor golf range. Along the way he earned a master’s degree in sports management and athletic administration at Adelphi University, harboring an ambition to be an athletic director.
In New Jersey, he partnered with a former teammate in a baseball training center. But the commute and long work hours sent him looking for opportunity on this side of the river, closer to his home and family in Ossining. “It’s a labor-intensive business,” he says. “It’s something you have to do six or seven days a week.”
In 2002, he found this vacant 8,100-square-foot industrial space on Radio Circle Drive in Mount Kisco. “There was nothing here,” he recalls. “It was a shell. It was all in my mind.” His late father, as good with a saw and hammer as the entrepreneur was with a bat and glove, went to work turning the old plant into synthetic fields of dreams.
It had been the home of Universal Voltronics, which manufactured “huge” generators here, says Gray. Now it’s a training ground for boys and girls of all ages that generates college scholarships for its most advanced players. About 96 percent of the kids in ProSwing’s high school program go on to play in college.
Andres Larramendi, who has just stepped from the batting cage, is one of them. A freshman at Princeton University, he earned all-state and honorable mention All-America honors at Horace Greeley High School in Chappaqua. A National Hispanic Scholar, Larramendi graduated with a .480 average – batting average, that is – and Dan Gray’s after-school tutelage helped put the pop in his bat and rhythm in his swing. Baseball was this catcher’s ticket to the Ivy League, he says.
“He’s a great coach,” says Larramendi, watching Gray lob baseballs underhand from a seat on a turned-over bucket to another college player spending semester break in the ProSwing batter’s box. “He’ll give you his input but he knows that his players know themselves …He lays the foundation and lets us go to work.”
But Coach Gray is no one-trick businessman. His centers also host kids’ baseball-themed and sports-themed birthday parties. A birthday party first brought Andres Larramendi here as an impressionable 8-year-old.
“If you’re just trying to be an elite place, you’re not going to survive,” says Gray. “You have to have different revenue streams that are using baseball for different reasons” to meet “the demands of your clients…That’s’ why we have 28 or 29 different revenue streams here.”
Gray had only one baseball training center as competition in the county when he opened 11 years ago. “Now there are probably 15 to 20 in Westchester and Putnam County, if not more.”
“He’s the greatest coach you’ll ever find,” says Dan Fraioli, who with his family operates Air Structures American Technologies Inc. in Rye Brook. He brings his sons to ProSwing to learn from Dan Gray. “He really knows his stuff. That’s why he’s so successful. A lot of these places go in and out of business.”
Running late, the ex-Dodger grabs his catcher’s mitt for an appointment with a client in Port Chester. The best splitter-throwing homeowner in Purchase and restaurateur in New Rochelle, Mariano Rivera, works out at ProSwing this winter while rehabilitating his surgically repaired knee for his return to the mound at Yankee Stadium this spring.
“It’s just a thrill to know that you’re helping him get ready for his last season,” says Gray.