Baseball: Fun and instruction in order at Slammers youth camp
By Tim Tierney For Sun-Times Media June 30, 2014 8:32PM
Young players get a tour of the Slammers' clubhouse from coach Matt Kennedy. | Tim Tierney/For Sun-Times Media
Updated: July 1, 2014 2:12AM
The sun was shining Saturday morning at Silver Cross Field as 16 young baseball players took in the surroundings and some instruction on the game they play for fun.
Garfield Love, the Joliet Slammers’ 13-year-old batboy, and 11-year-old Joseph Madeja, of Romeoville, were the oldest among a group that included two 5-year-olds getting an early taste of the national pastime in the third of four Slammers camps.
“I like working with some younger kids,’’ first-year Slammers coach Matt Kennedy said. “They don’t consider it working at it. They just like to come out and have fun, and that’s what the game’s meant to do.
“To see these guys have energy and want to be on the field, diving after ground balls, it’s fun.’’
Seeing a well-kept, professional field up close and actually playing on it gets the young campers’ attention from the beginning.
“They’re kind of amazed,’’ Kennedy said. “They come out and it’s a different perspective — once you get on the field and turn around and see 5,000 seats and see the stadium.
“Get them in the dugout and the view from there, the view from the outfield looking in, a lot of them are taken in.’’
Decked out in green Slammers gear, Love appreciated the three-hour session that included frequent water breaks and plenty of picture taking by moms and dads watching on the side.
“We learned a lot from coach Matt,’’ Love said. “He really taught the kids a lot about baseball.’’
Specifically, Love said he learned how to correctly field ground balls and how to correctly catch a pop fly.
“To get him out here and do some fielding, he eats it up,’’ Kennedy said of Love. “He’s always asking questions in the dugout.’’
Madeja, who has seen about half of the Slammers’ home games this season, said he participated in the camp “to have a little fun over summer break’’ and to improve his skills.
“How to field, how to bat correctly,’’ Madeja said. “You have to get in a good ready position, squat down, like you’re sitting in a chair.’’
Fielding and defense, including a brief session with Slammers shortstop Max Casper, was a big portion of the first half of the event.
Kennedy took time to high-five each camper after a drill on the infield between first and second base.
“The part of the game I think has been neglected is the throwing and fielding,’’ Kennedy said. “For me, that’s the most important part.
“Once the hour-and-a-half hits of doing all that, and switch it to hitting, all of a sudden the eyes light up. The energy comes back.’’
The younger campers quickly backed up in the outfield when Love and Madeja were in the last group to take batting practice from Kennedy.
Love’s response was predictable when asked about his favorite part of the camp.
“Probably hitting,’’ he said. “Me and Joe had a competition, and I hit the farthest.’’
The event ended with a trip for the young players and their parents to the batting cage under the stadium and a short visit to the team clubhouse.
“The kids that come out are eager to learn,’’ Kennedy said. “This group was good. They came out and had fun.’’