by Sarah Davin
“I’m hitting first!” one boy yells. “I’m hitting third!” yells another, as the campers line themselves up strategically in the dugout, preparing for the next inning. A third boy, wearing a baseball cap and a Mountaineers t-shirt comes up to bat. He swings and hits the ball just left of first base. “Wow, a single. This guy is your run-supporter,” says the pitching Mountaineer. He swings again, and the ball goes down the center of the field. “A triple! They have a score on the board!” After the rest of the hitters have had their chance, the teams switch hitting and fielding.
Such is a morning at the Mountaineers Youth Baseball Camps for children aged six to thirteen. Monday to Thursday, from 9 am to noon, children of multiple age groups learn the fundamentals of baseball from Mountaineers players and coaches.
A variety of skills are taught. For example, on the first day of the camp, they were busy learning dynamic warm-ups, base stealing, defense, and hitting. These skills are not just limited to the playing of the game, but to playing the game safely.
Head coach Blake Nation shows children how to play safe. “You should always be carrying the bat with the barrel and not the handle,” he explains, “Make sure your equipment is put away properly on the bench, not lying on the ground, so you don’t trip over it. Make sure you aren’t throwing your helmet or the bat, stuff like that.” He hopes these lessons will carry forward. “We teach things they can take from here and use with their teams, and have for the rest of their lives,” says Nation.
Mountaineers’ youth camps aren’t just spaces to learn the fundamentals of baseball. They’re also an opportunity for kids to learn how to be around other kids. “A camp-type situation is a great social setting,” Nation reflects, “they can interact with kids from other areas that maybe they haven’t interacted with before. It’s just like being in school. It gives them a chance to make new friends from different areas.”
Yet another valuable part of the Mountaineers Camp experience is the chance for a child to connect with someone they look up to. The players are heroes to these young kids. Mountaineers pitcher and Canisius College student, Andrew Kneussle, speaks passionately about how looking up to older players made him feel as a kid. “I remember it like it was yesterday being a kid and looking up to older players and thinking it’s so cool to see those players in their uniforms, playing the game, and having fun doing it. Being on the opposite side of that, and being able to show that to younger players, and being able to talk to them and work with them, I think that’s the coolest thing.”
While the focus of the camp is on the kids, the Mountaineers players, all of whom are college students, are pretty young themselves and learning just as much. Rick Angney, vice president of the Mountaineers says, “[The players] can walk along the streets, and people will recognize them. That’s not something that will happen at their colleges, or even probably their hometowns. They may see their pictures in the paper or on television.”
This level of support from the community comes with some serious responsibility. A Mountaineers player who has played a game late into the night before and then gets up early the following morning to teach the camp is showing dedication to the kids, a kind of dedication that is important in a good teacher. “As far as our players go, it’s great for them to interact with the kids, and learn how to teach these kids,” says Nation, “In the future, when they want to become a coach, they will know how to teach the kids and they can learn different ways to talk to different kids at different levels. It works great for the kids, the camp, and it works great for the players.”
What do these players hope to teach these kids outside of baseball? Kneussle answers, “I think the biggest thing is work ethic. Definitely through this game we can develop habits of working hard and getting into working on a schedule and a routine, working on little things, and doing things the right way rather than doing things for the sake of just doing them.”
The games and camps aren’t the only things that Mountaineers do for the community. The Mountaineers do a lot of community outreach, such as visiting the Heaton Woods Nursing Home, working with the Central Vermont Little League All Stars, and giving the proceeds of the gameday 50-50 drawings to a non-profit organization that requests support.
Mountaineers players also benefit the community just by living in it, via the Adopt-a-Mountaineer program, which places players with local host families. President and chief operating officer, Brian Gallagher, highlights Beth Cody’s work coordinating the program, stating, “Beth Cody does a great job, and she finds host families in the area to take players in during the summer. Many of the host families we’ve had on for 16 years. Some new ones each year join in. Situations change, but some take one, two, or three players.” The families who open up their homes to these players also get benefits, including enrolling their children in the baseball camp for free.
For parents, the Mountaineers Youth Baseball Camp gives kids an opportunity to both learn and play. Montpelier resident Tom Howard offers this statement in favor of the camp: “My grandson is Samari. This is his third year going to the camp, and it is, by far, hands down, the best. He’s been here an hour and a half, and instruction has been good. They’re teaching the kids how to throw, how to catch, and not just fun and games. It’s more of an instructional camp than just another fun camp for kids. I am very impressed.”
Meanwhile, on the diamond, a boy by third base asks the pitcher, ““Hey, did you throw me a knuckleball?” “I did.” affirms the pitcher, looking back over his shoulder. “I saw!” the camper exclaims proudly.
There will be two more sessions of Mountaineers Youth Baseball Camp this summer, beginning July 9th and July 16.