An overcast sky gave way to an early morning sun as a dozen boys ages six through nine excitedly took the field for the fourth day of the first session of the Junior Bulldogs Baseball Camps at Burbank High on Thursday.
Dressed in baseball caps that ranged from the Dodgers to the Boston Red Sox to the New York Yankees, each attired in a blue Bulldog T-shirt, armed with sleek aluminum bats that were game-used and brand new and topped off with sleek-looking, pro-styled gloves, the group that included Landon Bailey, Grant Baker, Leo Beebe, Kalin Chin, Clarke Crowther, Kyle Doche, James Gentile, Max Recchia, Ryan Recchia, Dominick Sheetz, Clark Stanis and Dale Vantrease, eagerly took the field.
When asked if it’s fun to participate at the camp, Baker answered in the affirmative. “Of course,” said the nine-year-old who plays Little League for the Ninja Tigers and has a game on Saturday. “We did all kinds of games like over-the-line and four corners.”
Overseeing the camp is Bob Hart, the longtime coach of the Bulldogs along with assistant coach Tony Ciccone.
“I just enjoy instilling the joy of the game to them,” Hart said. “I find that very pure. Very simple. Adults can be complicated. Kids aren’t that complicated.”
Hart said some players actually began at these camps.
“I’ve had kids in my program currently that were in these camps,” he said. “There’s a lot of immeasurable amount of satisfaction in watching a kid who struggles early in the camp and then watching him evolve by the fifth day to the point where his self esteem starts to skyrocket and he feels like he has a place. He’s a contributor. Everyone wants to contribute. These kids are no different.”
Also assisting was Mike Graceffo, a longtime coach in Burbank, who retired from his job at the Parks and Recreation Department in 2016.
Five of Hart’s players were also there lending a hand and they included Jakob Duarte, Oaklee Spens, Justin Robinson, Josh Balos and Curtis Peters.
Spens has volunteered for these summer camps and has been assisting since he was a freshman.
“Yeah, it’s really fun,” said the junior center fielder who batted leadoff for the Bulldogs of working at the camps. “You kind of get to go back to how you grew up and see how they grow up. You get to teach them. It’s nice to give back.”
Spens then talked about how he developed a love for the game.
“I started really little,” he noted. “My grandpa started teaching me at a really young age. He’d take me to the park and I fell in love with it. It’s full circle.”
Duarte has also been involved with the camps since he was a freshman. “It gives you an opportunity to give back to the program a little,” said the junior first baseman/pitcher. “When I was a kid I went to these camps and thought it was really fun. Yeah, there’s a commonality between me and the kids. It’s still baseball.”
The three-hour camp began with the youngsters running around the baseball field just like the big-league players.
Then four lines with three boys in each line was formed as each stretched to make sure their muscles would be ready for the day’s activity which began with short toss.
Next on the agenda was the formation of three teams of four as each threw the ball to the next boy.
Once that was over there were two teams of six boys in a straight line as they each threw the ball to the next boy.
The winning team was judged by how fast and accurate the tosses were.
What followed was a simulated game with a Bulldog player taking a knee and then tossing the ball underhand as each boy took his cuts.
If the ball was hit between the cones, it was a single. If it went further down the line, it was a double, but if it was caught, it was an out.
The day was capped with Graceffo, who has been a Burbank-area coach for 41 years, tossing the ball underhand to the boys in another simulated game, but this time running to the bases.
“I love it. I love just being with the kids. They keep you moving. They keep you young. I just love coaching baseball. They’re just so full of energy and life and they’re brutally honest,” Graceffo said. “They just love it. They just love being out here. There’s no motive with little ones. They’re just out here to play and have a good time.”
Graceffo then added: “One of the biggest things I find enjoyment in coaching is seeing kids develop,” he said. “Kids that I coached when they were six years old and now they’re young men doing great things in society and doing great things in their city and giving back to their community.”
There were a few breaks in between as the boys ate ice pops, drank water, talked about movies and of course baseball and baseball trivia.
There are three more sessions and boys and girls are welcome and will be held on June 17-21 for ages 11 through 14, July 15-19 for ages 6 through 10 and July 29-August 2 for ages 11 through 14.
For those parents interested, they can to go to www.burbankhighbaseball.org for more information.