Ronnie Healy pops fastball after fastball into the catcher’s mitt. He is told to throw curveballs. The first two sail high and flat. The next two are perfect, biting down hard at the front of the strike zone.
“That’s the pitch we want scouts to see,” his pitching coach says, watching the bullpen session. “They see that, with 90-plus (velocity), and he’s got something.”
Healy has a strong arm. He has a powerful swing. He has an all-consuming desire to reach the major leagues.
He has also cut a unique path that educators in Palm Beach County would rather not see followed.
Healy, a left-handed, power-hitting catcher and a right-handed relief pitcher who reaches 94 miles per hour, caught the eye of major-league scouts while playing for Jupiter High. But after falling behind in his classes, he withdrew from school in December, midway through his senior year. He now trains full-time at Elev8 Sports Institute in Delray Beach, formerly known as Bucky Dent Baseball Academy, in preparation for the June Major League Baseball draft.
Palm Beach County high school baseball is some of the nation’s most competitive. Several area seniors every year have the choice of signing a professional contract or accepting a college scholarship.
Healy, 18, has neither of those options at the moment. He concedes that he became ineligible for athletics at Jupiter by missing classes and turning in assignments late. To graduate, he would have had to spend far more time in the books than the batting cages.
So in December, Dave Healy and his wife, Rene, pulled the youngest of their three sons out of school. “He just didn’t want to be there,” Dave said. “He’s a smart kid. He’d just rather be playing ball.”
Dave Healy, a sales rep for Nestle Waters in Tamarac, also works an overnight shift at CVS. His wife, a surgery scheduler, is between jobs. Should Ronnie’s baseball career end without a big break, his father said, “He’s going to go to the school of hard knocks.”
The most high-profile high school baseball dropout is Washington Nationals star Bryce Harper, who earned his GED after his sophomore year in high school. After playing a year of junior college, he was selected first overall in the 2010 draft. While Harper was a phenom trying to reach the majors faster, Healy is just hoping for a chance.
“School is not my thing,” he said. “I want to play major-league baseball. I want to get there as soon as I can.”
He also wants to get his GED, which would allow him play at a junior college next year. Aside from putting him back in the classroom, that would give him a vital bargaining chip should he hear his name called in June.
A pro adviser, who asked not to be named since he does not represent Healy, said a player without college plans will “get taken advantage of” by a big-league club.
“What makes a team think they have to offer him 100 grand, 50 grand, five grand or even a plane ticket?”
Healy’s adviser, Tripper Johnson of California-based baseball agency Sosnick Cobbe, did not return phone calls for this story. Elev8 coaches told The Post Healy is being recruited by several of South Florida’s top junior colleges, but has not committed.
Bucky Dent’s Baseball School, operating in Delray Beach since 1986, in August 2011 opened a full-time sports and academic training academy for high school-age players. Dent, the former New York Yankees all-star, left the operation two months after the academy opened.
It later rebranded as Elev8 Sports Institute with a multi-sport mission similar to IMG Academy in Bradenton. While IMG is a 450-acre Taj Mahal for sports training, Elev8 plays on city-owned baseball fields and operates from a few modest, two-story buildings on 3.2 acres adjacent to Miller Park.
Six days a week, Healy commutes from his Jupiter Farms home to train with his new teammates, some of whom are local players who didn’t earn starting roles on their high school team.
Elev8, which costs around $40,000 for a boarding student, schedules 50 to 60 games each spring against junior colleges, small colleges and high schools. As of Tuesday, the team is 27-7 with four losses to Miami Dade College, the top-ranked junior college in the state and No. 3 in the country.
Jupiter began the season an area-best 13-0 and is ranked 16th in the nation among high schools by MaxPreps. Coach Andy Mook said he was stunned at first, but now supports Healy’s decision.
“He’s a good kid. I hope he succeeds,” Mook said.
Dave Healy is happy Elev8 was an option, but he said his son “knows he’s made some wrong choices.” He doesn’t think anyone should follow his example.
“I think they’ll see that there’s an easier path,” he said.