RANTOUL — When Andrew Cotner was a pitcher in the New York Mets minor league system, he tore his labrum for the second time in 1993, effectively ending his big league hopes.
The lefty said he wishes he knew then what he knows now about proper training techniques.
"The way I threw put a lot of stress on my shoulder," Cotner said, adding that’s one reason he got into sports training.
Training techniques and fundamentals on the diamond are two things Cotner knows a lot about. He and his new business partner, Allen Jones Sr., are baseball junkies. They can’t get enough of the sport.
That’s why they’ve opened Diamond Sports Training at 1728 E. Grove Ave., in the Rantoul Plaza. The facility is for teaching and training not just baseball players. It’s also for softball.
Cotner believes he could’ve been a contender, but he never got the chance to find out because of the injury.
"One thing that was disappointing was that every player wants to see how far they could go," Cotner said. "My numbers in the minor league were good. I felt I had a good chance of playing in the big leagues if I stayed healthy."
A 1987 graduate of Champaign Centennial, Cotner also pitched for the Buckley Dutchmasters in the Eastern Illinois Baseball League starting in high school and today serves as E.I. board president.
Cotner enrolled at the University of Illinois under coach Audie Garrido.
He spent a year away from baseball to deal with his grief and depression when his mother was dying of cancer.
He returned to his studies and baseball at Illinois State University. While earning a master’s degree in sports administration at Illinois, he was a graduate assistant coach under Itch Jones and later had administrative stints with the Arizona Diamondbacks and the Houston Astros.
Cotner said he was being groomed to become a general manager.
He left baseball, however, to go into private business.
But he missed baseball and returned to Champaign and began training young players.
Cotner rejoined the staff as assistant baseball coach at Parkland College in 2015. The Cobras rolled to a 52-9-1 record last season and finished third in the NJCAA D-2 World Series.
Cotner also became the pitching coach for the Normal Cornbelters of the Frontier League in 2016.
Cotner has a new lease on life these days. He just finished treatment for stage 4 throat cancer and was deemed cancer free two weeks ago.
Cotner and Jones said they saw the need for a baseball-softball training facility in this area.
"We’ve been talking about it for a good year," said Jones, a longtime American Legion and high school coach in Rantoul. "There’s really no place north of Champaign (that offers training)."
Jones is sold that the facility will be a hit.
"Our vision is two-fold," Jones said. "We don’t want to rent out just a (batting) cage. We’ll do that, but we also want an opportunity if you have a son or grandson who says, ‘You know what? I want to get better.’ We have people who can come in and work with him and give him lessons."
Area coaches who want to use the facility for their team are welcome.
Maybe a catching guru wants to offer coaching lessons.
"You could rent the facility and do the lessons on their own time," Jones said.
Jones said Diamond Sports also has hitting lessons already set up. He would also like to offer mini three-day sessions for young players on throwing and fielding, "kind of like a baseball camp but not an extended type of thing."
Jones sees himself in more of the management role, while Cotner will focus on the teaching-training role.
"I’m excited," Jones said. "I think when the word gets out that you have a place to work out on your own, you don’t have to fight for gym space, you don’t have to work out outside," the place will become a regular attraction for baseball and softball players and coaches.
Diamond Sports Training held an open house to show off its facility Saturday night. Cotner said about 75 people attended.