Swing by Whitehouse or Veterans fields on any given weekday morning and you'd expect to see ballplayers at work honing their skills. After all, the fields are the respective homes of the Cape Cod Baseball League's Harwich Mariners and Chatham Anglers. But while baseball skills are a big part of mornings during the summer months, the fun belongs to the game's future generations taking part in the annual youth clinics.
Each week at each field representatives from each team (read: cool players and coaches) lead aspiring youth baseball players in skill-building drills and games aimed at helping them better understand the game, while also letting them have some fun.
“I like the little kids getting to know the players,” said Chatham assistant coach Josh Kieffer. “They come at night and get to see them play and then come to camp and actually get to talk to them. That's the best part. The relationships they have with the players.”
Kieffer said the clinics focus on basic skills such as throwing, catching, hitting, along with spirited games of Pickle and informal scrimmages between campers. Although baseball skills are key, the main aspect is encouraging kids to play.
“When I was a kid we played Wiffle ball with our friends in the neighborhood,” he said. “But a lot of kids don't do that so much now. But to be able to come here every morning and do that, if you enjoy playing you're more likely to play for fun as you get older.”
Player Jake Palomaki said the clinics are all about fostering community connections.
“It gives us a chance to see who comes out to our games,” he said. “We don't always get to see who's there so it's good to see the kids out here and help them out with whatever we can.”
Pitcher Josiah Gray appreciates the overall atmosphere of the clinics.
“It's early in the morning, but you love to get up and play with the kids,” he said. “It's all fun.”
For Andrew Kennedy, watching his son Ian and daughter Sophia take part in the clinic is something of a trip down memory lane since he was once a clinic camper himself.
“When I was just a toddler we used to come down here for the summers,” he said. “My two brothers and myself were in the clinics. We had a great time. We learned a lot and had a lot of fun with all the guys.”
Kennedy said many of the players leading the clinics went on to play for Major League teams, including Jeff Bagwell and Jim Sherman.
“I think I learned more in this baseball clinic than I did in my Little League seasons back home because these guys were just so knowledgeable about the game,” he said. “It's just a great bunch of kids they invite down here every summer.”
Kennedy hopes Ian and Sophia will enjoy the clinics in similar fashion and possibly pick up some skills, as well.
In Harwich the vibe is similar, with team members such as bullpen catcher Donny Gress delighting in passing on a love of their favorite game to the next generation.
“What I love is that you get to teach the game you love, that you grew up on, to a younger generation that will hopefully fall in love with the same game you fell in love with,” said Gress, who added that he tries to foster that love through appreciating the little things. “Every detail of the game you try to teach to them. You try to treat them as your younger sibling and you want them to enjoy their time here.”
Gress said getting to know the children of the Mariners' community is special.
“It's awesome,” he said. “They'll chant your name. Especially when they come down to the games, you hear their love coming from the side of the field.”
Assistant coach Steve Gruenberg, known best as Berger, is also a big fan of the summer clinics.
“I think it's a chance for us to show the community that we care, that we can do something positive for them,” he said. “Sometimes baseball gets an 'it's too boring' or 'it's not fun' and so for the kids to be able to come out and run around with guys that are going to be Major League baseball players one day or guys that are high profile college athletes, and for those guys to get something out of this too, I think that's the best part.”
Gruenberg said he feels the most important aspect of the clinic is imparting skills beyond the outfield.
“The most important thing is probably the skills beyond baseball,” he said. “Especially for the younger kids. It's teamwork, socialization, being patient, and making friends from all over. It's awesome for them to just be able to have fun, relax, and enjoy Cape Cod.”
For more information about each team's clinics visit their websites, chathamanglers.com and harwichmariners.org.