J.D. Closser has played baseball at every professional level in close to every U.S. state. And now the former catcher for the Colorado Rockies and the Carolina Mudcats – andseveral other teams – teaches the game to players at various levels in Garner professionally, too.
Closser opened Going Pro Baseball Academy on June 1. He runs everything from individual sessions, group sessions, camps, clinics and a batting cage on Garner Station Road just off the U.S. 401/U.S. 70 split. He offers coaching on multiple facets, but largely focuses on hitting mechanics.
“I was doing lessons and stuff just wherever I could do them before, but just decided that I’d been sitting around long enough (and) I needed to start doing something,” the Garner resident said. “I wanted to have something in the area where people could go, and work out, get better and reach their potential. Because there’s only a few places like this around here, and there’s nothing that’s close to this area.”
The Arizona Diamondbacks drafted him in 1998, the club traded him to the Colorado Rockies in 2002. The Indiana native reported to AA Carolina in Zebulon. It was during that one-year stop where he met his wife, Holley, a Raleigh native. (Carolina became a Florida Marlins farm team in 2003 and Cincinnati Reds team in 2009.) He worked his way through the Rockies’ farm system until in 2004, he made his major league debut.
He hit .319 in 124 plate appearances that season, and went on to hit .219 in 508 appearances from 2004-2006. The Milwaukee Brewers claimed him off waivers after that year, and he had stints with five more organizations as he closed out his14-year professional career in 2011. The Rockies made it to the World Series the year after he left, with many players he played with, including his Mudcat and Rockies teammate Matt Holliday (currently playing in the World Series for the St. Louis Cardinals).
Now he’s applying the expertise from a long career playing in 16 cities in 12 states and one Canadian province – and those were just his home games. Closser feels fortunate to have stayed in the game a long time. And he said less-celebrated careers like his provide an advantage in coaching. Many players will tell you, he said, that former stars can struggle as coaches.
“They had a hard time relating to everybody, because it was just easy for them,” Closser said. “But if you were a guy that bounced around and never established, you had to try a lot of different stuff, you had to make adjustments.”
Those adjustments, at all levels, represent the keys to teaching baseball. In a sport with razor-thin margins, where split seconds and fractions of inches separate success and failure, there’s no shortage of areas for players of all ability levels to improve. Talent only can go so far, he said.
“There’s so many little things you can hone in on, and not just physically, but there’s just mental sides of it, and understanding the game and what you’re supposed to be doing when you’re at the plate with your approach,” Closser said. “What’s really awesome about this game is that there’s so many things you can teach.”
Closser has children aged 8 and 10, and he and his wife settled down in her home state when the children reached school age. He called the moving around – which turned into him leaving during baseball season – more inconvenient than a major hurdle in the relationship, and was grateful to have seen most of the entire country.
He loves teaching in his new home. He said he draws students from Fuquay-Varina and Clayton as well as the Garner area, noting a shortage of similar opportunities in the area south and southeast of Raleigh. He also noted the strength of leagues in Garner and Clayton, and the strong season from Garner High’s team last year.
“When I’ve been working with a player, and a player comes back tells me ‘I had the greatest weekend,’ that’s so rewarding,” Closser said.