CRESTWOOD, Mo. -- Little by little over time, Brad Stone could see the change.
One of the clients at the gym he owns and operates in suburban St. Louis steadily transformed herself from a mousy, shy, soft-spoken participant into a confident and commanding presence.
"I started showing her, ‘Here's what you can do,'" said the former Quincy University right-handed pitcher and 12th round draft pick of the Florida Marlins in 2006. "Six months in, she's moving weight and she's put on weight with muscle. She looks better. She feels better. She carries herself differently."
The best was still to come.
About a year after joining his gym -- Stone Strength Systems -- the client showed up one day with interesting news.
"She walked in and was like, ‘Brad, I did it,'" Stone said. "I'm asking, ‘You did what?'"
A nurse in a nearby medical system, the client developed the confidence born from her physical and mental transformation to pursue additional education and apply for a promotion, which she received. She even ended a romantic relationship she termed as toxic and formed a new outlook on life.
She told him, "I'm changed." And she credited him for it.
Hearing that, emotion got the better of him.
"I teared up," Stone said. "I'm so incredibly proud and happy to have been a part of that. Membership dues and being able to pay the bills are great, but conversations like that are absolutely priceless."
In that moment, he made certain the nurse knew she was responsible for her change.
"I didn't lift one weight. I didn't run one lap. I didn't do one push-up," Stone said. "I told her, ‘I did none of that for you. You did all of those things.' And she said, ‘I would not have done all of those things if not for you.'
"Moments like that, well, they're not very common. Special things are rarely common."
Stone knows he has something special with his gym and its clientele.
"I'm not super social media savvy, but you have to have your hashtags for your post," Stone said. "With Stone Strength Systems -- we call it ‘S3' -- one of the things we say is the S3 family. There are so many interconnected pieces of the web that have emerged because of the gym that I never could have anticipated.
"That family feeling is something we say all the time, but it really rings true for us."
Stone needed that when his baseball career ended.
As a sophomore at QU in 2005, Stone went 6-3 with a 2.42 ERA and eight complete games. He led the staff with 65 strikeouts and was drafted by the Houston Astros in the 31st round of the MLB amateur draft. He chose to return to QU and enjoyed one of the best seasons in recent program history, going 10-3 with a 2.41 ERA and 80 strikeouts in 89 2/3 innings and earning first-team All-Midwest Region honors.
That's when the Marlins came calling.
By his third season in the minors, Stone climbed to Class AAA, starting both the 2009 and 2010 seasons with the New Orleans Zephyrs. He ended both seasons at Class AA Jacksonville and was released following the 2010 season.
One year pitching in independent leagues was enough before he decided to retire from playing professionally.
"I tore a muscle in my back," Stone said. "That was kind of the beginning of the end for me."
It left him in a vulnerable position asking what comes next.
He was invited to become a representative for Northwestern Mutual, but quickly realized the business wasn't for him. He continued to give private pitching lessons and work with younger athletes when a friend opened his own gym. It put fate into motion.
"I always had people I did pitching lessons for asking, ‘What do you do in the gym to throw so hard?'" Stone said. "I had the people. He had the equipment, space and time. I said, ‘I'll bring them in. I'll run them through my stuff. We'll split it.'"
The situation worked out surprisingly well.
"I got in there and starting thinking, ‘I could make this work. I should probably acquire some knowledge,'" Stone said. "I took a couple of certifications and really got started in the business. I figured out not only do I really like this, but I'm good at it. I almost tripped and fell into training."
Eventually, it led to opening his own gym.
The original location was in Brentwood, but S3 recently moved into a bigger facility in an industrial park area on the south side of the suburban St. Louis area.
"Ownership is an entirely different skill set than being a strength coach and one that has come with many lessons, some more painful than others," Stone said. "I don't enjoy ownership like some people I know in my little community of gym owners. Some of them are like, ‘I want to get in. I want to find coaches. And I want to get out.' That's not me.
"I love programming. I love coaching. I love being on the floor and being in the trenches, if you will. It's a lot more fun than sitting in the office signing up someone new. I'd rather watch someone set a new deadlift record. I'm still very much hands on."
And while baseball is still part of his soul and pitching lessons are still part of his regimen, it's the transformation of his clients he treasures more than anything else.
"Watching people make physical change, that's fun," Stone said. "But it's the mental side of things I love, watching someone carry themselves differently, act differently."