After going to McQueen High School from his freshman to junior years, Pagni graduated from Reno High in 1994. Pagni then took his baseball skills to Yuba College in Marysville, Calif., for two years before playing Division-I baseball at Centenary College in Shreveport, La. His playing career was over, but Pagni still had an itch for the game, which he cured by starting ‘Bret’s Baseball and Softball Academy.’ While business was slow at first, Pagni has built his academy into a mainstay within the local community of aspiring baseball and softball players.
“I’m a coach’s kid, so growing up my dad got me around a lot of baseball guys,” Pagni said. “I was really lucky because I was around ex-major league and college players and coaches. Even at a young age, I knew I wanted to coach. Being around those guys, I just retained a lot of stuff and now I’m able to share that knowledge with the community. My experience actually taking lessons for the first time at 19-years-old, I just thought it would be really fun to do. I thought to myself ‘These guys have helped me, how cool would it be to turn around when I’m done playing and help a bunch of kids.’ So actually the experience itself and seeing the results myself, it really sold me on wanting to do this.”
Since starting the academy, Pagni has grown from the one-batting cage, one-client days that he opened with. Now the academy resides in a warehouse located in Sparks at 451 East Glendale Avenue, boasting seven batting cages, three bullpens and a fielding area. Since first offering the baseball facilities, Pagni has expanded the reach of the academy beyond just lessons in a warehouse. Along with Assistant General Manager Ken Camel, Pagni established a traveling team known as the Muckdogs Baseball Club.
“About 10 years ago Ken came up to me and said ‘We need to start travel baseball,’ and I didn’t know what travel baseball was. Everybody around here just did Little League and Babe Ruth. So we started in the summer of 2003 with one 18U team and then the next fall added a 12 and 14U team. We were really terrible, I mean really bad. The first couple of years we really took our lumps. People were so used to playing in the spring and then four or five months later, baseball season was over.
“So it took about five years into it before we started fielding more competitive teams because we started getting more quality athletes. After that, we started really competing against Northern California teams, which was our goal because if we’re trying to get the kids to college, we have to make sure they’re competing against the same kids that the scholarships are going to.”
From that time, the Muckdogs have been established as one of the premier travel team programs in the area, sending 116 kids on to play college baseball, with 24 at the Division-I level, six at Division-II and three alumni being drafted into Major League Baseball.
Although most of the kids within the program probably have big league dreams, the focus of Pagni remains on getting his players past the high school level.
“Ultimately our goal is to get the kids into college so they can get that education, and if we can use baseball as a vehicle to do that, that’s great,” Pagni said. “Playing a college sport is going to teach them a little more discipline little later in life. We’re not here to sell families on the dream of becoming a big leaguer because we know the percentages are so slim.
“Most of our coaches have at least a college background. Some of them are pro ball guys, but most are college guys. Since that really is our focus, getting the kids to college, I like to recruit a lot of guys that have a college baseball background.”
Seven years ago, Pagni expanded his influence to the girls’ side of things, becoming the president of Nevada Lightning Fastpitch Softball. Now, 10 Muckdog teams and nine Lightning teams are giving local kids a chance at exposure to college coaches. While Pagni no longer does lessons himself, he does still step into the dugout as a coach of the 9U Muckdogs, as well as the 19U crew during the summer. Currently the 9U is making a name for itself, sitting with a 31-1 record having won seven different tournaments. It is that payoff that Pagni said makes it all worthwhile.
“It’s always cool to see all the work we do in the cages or in the infield or bullpen be put to use in a game and see the kids perform. To see them on the field performing, to me that is the ultimate satisfaction. For me, the outlet of coaching gives me a similar passion as playing. It definitely fills that void that was there just because I’m around the game. Seeing and helping the kids is great. I like coming to work every day because I still get to be around the game.
“I think being able to teach the game at a young age, the right way, is huge. I think the biggest thing is the discipline and life skills we try to teach. I have kids that come back that are engineers now, or school teachers or even doctors that say ‘The discipline and mental toughness I learned in my three or four years playing for you, I’m using now out in life.’ That’s the ultimate reward. I can’t put it into words. That’s why we do it.”