Baseball camp brings back stickball, childhood traditions

Jul 16, 2018

Mark Cruz and Scott Dutra still remember the days they would spend playing pickup baseball at the Dartmouth Youth Activities Association fields with their friends. Now, the co-directors of Buzzards Bay Athletics are reviving old traditions through a baseball clinic with a twist.

Now in its second year, the Buzzards Bay Athletics camps are growing in popularity, with an average of 60 kids signed up for each of the three week-long sessions. The final session runs from July 16 to 20.

In the mornings, Cruz, Dutra, and his staff of about 7-8 volunteer coaches spend the morning developing skills at various drill stations. Kids take turns practicing their hitting, catching, running, pitching, and teamwork skills, with instruction offered to all levels of players. Kids are divided into four groups by age -- T-ball, Junior League, Little League, and Pony.

“This is a camp for everybody, from high end elite players to players that need basic instruction,” Cruz said.

Dartmouth High varsity baseball players Colin Boyea and Eric Jenkins, both rising seniors, serve as two of the camp’s coaches. Returning to coach after doing so last year, the pair noted they enjoy the camaraderie among the campers.

“There’s a lot of T-ballers, so a lot of times some of the older kids will help them out,” Jenkins said.

In the afternoons, after a lunch break, Cruz and Dutra switch things up. Most camps include baseball games to end the day and let athletes test out their skills, but Cruz and Dutra do things a little bit differently.

“We’re very drill-oriented in the morning, but in the afternoons we do the things that I grew up doing,” Cruz said.

Instead, games closely mirror uncoached pick-up games the two grew up with. Teams are assigned at random, and kids are free to make decisions themselves like switch up roles and positions, try out crazy plays that would never be allowed anywhere else, and swap batting hands.

“We really want to make sure that in the sport of baseball they’re having fun, it’s not just about fundamentals,” Cruz said.

Every kid makes it to first base, as there are no outs at first in this game. Reviews -- along with all disputes -- are settled with a game of rock-paper-scissors played on the spot.

Kids are also introduced to stickball, which is played with thin wooden sticks and tennis balls. The camp even hosts a kickball game later in the week.

“The kids love it, they have a good time with it,” Boyea said. “They like the diversity of it, that they can switch between baseball and stickball.”

Nine-year-old T-baller Ben Garcia attended the camp last year, and was drawn back due to the allure of stickball.

“It’s fun and it’s a little different than baseball,” he noted.

Stickball does, however, present a unique challenge to even the most experienced baseball player.

“It’s harder to catch a tennis ball without a glove than it is a baseball with a glove,” Cruz noted.

Little Leaguer Roger Jackman, 12, got to work on his hitting skills using real pitching machines, and a special training device which allowed him to work on his swing. It’s his favorite part of the sport, he noted.

The camp is a partnership between the organization and the DYAA, with funds going back to its programs.