Merrell Ligons founded a youth baseball team called Venom in Round Rock in 2020, about six months after the COVID-19 pandemic began in March.

Prior to that, in 2019 Ligons was coaching a team through the Round Rock Baseball League where he met his business partner, Joel Harrison.

As more and more restrictions came about due to the pandemic, Ligons began trying to find a safe way to keep the game going.

“COVID[-19] hit, and my goal was just to find a place for the kids to play,” Ligons said.

By May 2021, through the work of Ligons and Harrison, Venom had evolved into a full-scale youth baseball training program and competitive organization called Baseball Academy of Texas, which has teams that play through a national youth baseball tournament circuit called Perfect Game.

While B.A.T. looks in many ways similar to that of other youth sports training organizations—players developing their skillsets through high-level instruction—Ligons said an additional aspect gives his business a unique bent.

Baseball was always a big part of Ligons’ family, and he made it all the way to a couple of minor league affiliates of the Kansas City Royals, including the Spokane Indians and the Charleston Alley Cats, for a few seasons in the mid-90s.

Ligons said his vision now is to use baseball to help kids learn deeper life skills that they can carry with them through adulthood.

Therefore, he hopes to train and grow the next generation of community leaders.

“There’s no guarantee that any of these kids are going to play for [The University of Texas at Austin], or play for the Astros,” he said. “The chances are slim to none. But, with the right mindset, with the right work ethic, we can produce a lot of lawyers. Maybe some physicians. Maybe our next chief of police or even mayor.”

Ligons said B.A.T. leadership is always looking for other opportunities for civic involvement, be it charitable fundraising, ways to honor veterans or another avenue to help communities.

Aside from community building and volunteering, B.A.T. also incorporates life skills exercises into team training.

One example, Ligons said, is bringing in a parent who is a sniper for the Austin Police Department to teach the young athletes about leadership.

“These are things that the best of the best in our police departments are learning, and if I can teach those kids how to deal with stressful situations through breathing and positive talk ... and then turn them loose in their communities to teach their friends and do great things, then you start to see a snowball happen,” Ligons said.

There are now six teams and 71 athletes ranging in age from 9-14 enrolled in the B.A.T. program, but players up to age 16 also participate to build their skills for their high school teams, Ligons said.

Practices take place at the B.A.T. facility located in Round Rock at 7323 CR 110, or at Northeast Metropolitan Park in Pflugerville.

Beyond practices, tournaments take B.A.T. teams as far south as Canyon Lake near New Braunfels or as far north as Harker Heights in Bell County.

This June, Ligons said B.A.T. athletes will go all the way to Alabama to participate in a youth World Series event through Perfect Game.

“I think, to give these kids an opportunity to kind of get out of their little community and see where baseball could take you, it could inspire them,” Ligons said. “That’s kind of the goal there.”

Baseball Academy of Texas

7323 CR 110, Round Rock

Program and training hours vary