Max Soliz Jr.
Put yourself in the cleats of a high school baseball player with aspirations of playing at a D1 program, and using that as a springboard to get the attention of big league scouts so that one day you could be drafted into an MLB organization. Then imagine that your season was taken away with no promise of any additional regular season games, no showcases, and no chances at all to raise your profile. Unfortunately this describes a huge number of high school athletes in 2020, and for Max Soliz Jr., he was one of the players that faced an uncertain future.
As a player that prides himself on his ability to outwork the competition, Coronavirus hit Soliz Jr. particularly hard. He’d verbally committed to play at Arkansas, but without a firm offer in hand, he knew that he still had to continue to improve to earn his spot in the lineup. But without the chance to do it out on the field, there weren’t any clear next steps.
“Kids may not understand that when you get a verbal commitment, it’s not a guarantee that you’re even going to walk on campus and have an actual scholarship. And most parents probably don’t even understand that. The key is that you have to continuously improve, and even then, colleges recruit multiple athletes at the same position to see who works out best.” – Max Soliz Sr.
Even armed with this knowledge, it didn’t give the Soliz family an inherent leg up on their potential competition. Soliz Jr. wasn’t allowed to head back to Nashville to train with his hitting coach; his high school wasn’t allowing students to work out together in any capacity; and while Soliz Sr. was able to throw some batting practice to his son, in his own words, “I don’t have a great arm so it’s hard to pitch well enough for him to try and execute what he’s hunting, which doesn’t ever allow him to get comfortable at the plate.” Even if Soliz Sr. did have a better arm, they both knew that it wouldn’t come close to simulating what happens at the plate in a real game.
“He’d have games where he wasn’t getting fastballs anymore, so having to adjust to a slider or a curveball and understanding the timing and the rhythm of that, it was something we couldn’t practice at home. Without the chance to face a curveball or slider that he’d end up seeing, or the velocity he’d end up seeing, it was a big concern.”
Taking all of this into consideration, the father and son team sought out alternatives to the traditional training methods, and happened to come across WIN Reality. By chance, they were in the same town as one of the representatives for WIN, and got a personalized demo of the product. Once he stepped into the virtual reality (VR) environment himself, Soliz Sr. knew he had to pull the trigger, and bought a system on the spot.
For the next three weeks, Soliz Jr. trained in WIN Reality’s VR every day. He saw nearly 1,500 game-speed pitches across a number of different training methods designed to improve his ability to correctly identify pitch types, to make his swing decision in the optimal timing window, and to combat pitch tunneling. While he couldn’t physically practice against live pitching, Soliz Jr. did everything he could to maintain and improve his plate discipline skills so that when game action returned, he’d be ready to jump back into the batter’s box as if no time had been lost at all.
His first opportunity to face live pitching again came against a local high schooler that brought together some other players for a small batting practice session. After acting as the catcher, he got his chance to step to the plate and was able to find out if all the time he’d spent in WIN Reality had been worth it.
“He goes up to bat, and the pitcher had a really great slider, but Jr. didn’t chase it. That immediately stood out as interesting because to this point, he hadn’t taken any [live] at-bats in over a month and a half. Usually anyone would be a little anxious after that kind of shutdown period, but Jr. wasn’t anxious. The only work he’d done during that time was with WIN Reality, and during those live at-bats, he took two walks, and when he did finally get a fastball, he drove it out of the park. He looked really comfortable in the box, and was seeing the ball really well. After that session, our biggest takeaway with WIN Reality was, ‘I think we’re onto something here. This could bridge the gap.’”
While this was an encouraging step, and a great hurdle to clear, Soliz Jr. still needed to prove it out on the field in a true game environment. He had to cement his road to Arkansas, and from a greater perspective, he needed to show scouts that he was a prospect to watch as he progressed to a future draft date.
This moment ultimately came in the form of the Perfect Game National showcase, easily the biggest stage of his young career, and where he really needed to prove that he was ready to play at a D1 powerhouse like Arkansas. Just like he had in that backfield session, Soliz Jr. again rose to the occasion.