Summer baseball camp a hit with island youngsters
“I just move a lot and get onto the ball and make good passes,” he said. He doesn’t try to guess where the ball is going before the hitter makes contact, he said.
“I just need to wait,” he said, until the ball squirts out on the field.
Finn was ready to eat up all the ground balls at the Parks and Recreation Baseball Camp, which started Monday and runs through July 1.
Eric Bush, the instructor, said youngsters from 5 to 12 years old are participating in drills and scrimmages.
“The most valuable thing is, camp extends these kids’ baseball season so they don’t just drop their gloves,” Bush said. He said that the camp allows children to play until Cal Ripken and Little League schedules resume in the spring. “They have to keep playing catch and keep hitting.”
With Bush directing the action, the players lined up around the baseball diamond behind the Lawn Avenue School on Monday to work on hitting, fielding and throwing. In the morning, they practiced for 20 minutes at “stations,” where they specialized in hitting, playing the outfield and playing the infield. During the afternoon, they played a couple of scrimmages, with the older kids taking over the big diamond and the younger campers on the small field.
In one contest, coach Mike Rafanelli held a stopwatch on players as they scooted down the first base line. The first time, two of the campers tied, with a time of 3.9 seconds, but in the second round, the best time improved to 3.4 seconds.
“That kid’s fast,” Rafanelli said, as the little feet kicked up a cloud of dust. At camp, the youngsters learn games and skills that they can use as they keep playing all summer, Bush said.
“They can go up to the field for a short-sided game and play,” he said.
Typically, youngsters drop baseball as they grow up and the competition gets tougher, he said. For every 12 children in Cal Ripken ball, he estimated only six will continue onto Little League.
“Very few kids go on to Babe Ruth,” he said. Babe Ruth League is for 13- to 15-year-olds.
Bush ran a batting practice before lunch and then told the youngsters to take a break. But on a hot sunny day, the players had a hard time resting, even when the coaches told them to take a drink and sit in the shade.
Matthew Beretta and William Pelik, both 10, played a little catch in the shade, tossing the baseball around the lawn.
Finn sat with a gang of friends and took it easy until he joined the contest to see who could leg it out to first base fastest.
Besides fielding, Finn can run, too. In the first round, he motored down the line from home plate to first base in 4.5 seconds.
“Not bad,” said Rafanelli, with a glance at his stopwatch.
For Brad Gaudreau, 11, the scrimmages were the highlight of camp. Brad, who will start seventh grade in the fall, plays Little League. He likes catching the best, but he also pitches and plays second base.
His best game this season was against the Jamestown Athletics. “The first one’s always the best,” he said.
Joe Winkler, 10, went to baseball camp Monday to work on his skills and have a good time. “It’s just a way for baseball players to get better,” said Joe, who will start fifth grade in the fall. “I wanted to be here to have fun and improve on everything.”
Bush said baseball is a hard game to learn because the skills call for so many different abilities.
“Running and catching with a glove? That’s hard,” he said. But he added that hitting remains the toughest thing in baseball.
“It’s the toughest thing in sports,” he said, because players are struggling to smash a round ball with a round bat while the opponents try their hardest to get them out.
And that’s just the physical part of the game.
“There’s a variety of skills you have to master to be successful,” he said, and there are mental skills, too.
For kids, the most difficult may be “short-term memory loss,” Bush said, meaning the youngsters have to brush off a bad at-bat or a bad play and not let it take their focus off the next play.
“There’s always something going on,” he said. “Whether you have the ball or not, you could instantly be in the play.” And unlike sports like basketball, where everyone can expect to play a couple of minutes, baseball players have to earn their way onto the field.
“It’s hard to hide people,” he said. “It’s a team sport, but you’re at the plate alone and you’re in the outfield alone.” To become a great baseball player, youngsters have to learn how to “fail and move on,” he said.