I think it was my second day at Raising Arizona Kids when the publisher casually mentioned staff members get to spend a day at summer camp.
“I’m in!” I thought. But how does one even start to choose a camp? That’s when it hit me like a four-seam fastball: Why not pick something my kids are passionate about?
My 8-year-old son, Jack, lives, breathes and dreams baseball. In fact, my little slugger was selected to play on his league’s tournament team. So, naturally, I was drawn to the D-Backs Baseball Academy Youth Camp. This camp for boys and girls ages 6 to 14 offers baseball and softball fundamentals.
Not only is it offered at various locations throughout the Valley this summer, it’s also offered during winter and spring breaks. Jack is an old pro at this camp, so bringing him along on my journey was almost mandatory.
We are a baseball family. In our home, there’s always a game on television or the radio. I love the sport, but I must confess — I really only know the basics. I actually volunteered to keep score for my son’s team this season (in a real scorebook), just so I could follow my husband and son’s post-game discussions. If anything, I was looking forward to picking up a few pointers to impress my guys.
Before I knew it, it was camp day. I arrived at Salt River Fields just before 8 a.m. The fresh-cut grass and well-manicured grounds really are a welcoming sight. Like all the other campers, I was given a practice jersey, water bottle and a bag full of swag, then directed to the dugout.
Back up for a moment to the night before camp. My husband ran out to his workshop (where he keeps his old, nostalgic baseball gear) and collected his still relatively new Rawlings baseball glove and a classic mid-1990s Easton “Goldy” metal bat for me. My husband “buttered” the mitt, and, I swear, before he handed the bat over to me, I saw him give it a little kiss goodbye. He winked and guaranteed at least one or two coaches would comment on my gear.
Back to camp. I stood out like a sore thumb in the dugout. At first, I looked like any other ordinary mom there to get her ball player settled in. But as the dugout cleared, and I joined the warm up, I started to get some stares. It was clear to my fellow 8-year-old teammates that not only was I a grown-up … but a mom (a.k.a. a girl).
It was time to line up and begin stretching drills. Campers are divided into age groups and assigned a team name; my son and I were with the “Aces,” a nod to the Reno Aces. On to throwing and catching drills. I like to think I held my own…. and that the coaches did not go easy on me.
Next up was a game of Four Corners — a game that combines throwing, catching, running and a little competition. Here we go. I was in the thick of it now. And at one point, one of the coaches put the pressure on, reminding me that his teams never lose this game. I ran my heart out, making sure I didn’t catch the ball with my face or slip as I turned the bases. That’s when I earned my nickname: “Blazer.”
Now that my confidence was well intact, the Aces rotated to the outfield. The most beautiful pop fly came my way. I yelled “mine,” just as I was instructed, and the ball landed perfectly in my freshly-buttered mitt. My teammates — slowly warming up to the idea of my presence — all cheered!
I was beyond bragging by this point. (I think even Jack high-fived me, acknowledging that we were related). As I worked my way back in line for my second turn, my true talent followed. I called out “mine,” and a fly ball dropped to the ground at least 5 feet away, followed by a huge roar of laughter from my fellow Aces — quickly reminding me it never pays to brag.
Lesson learned, boys and girls; lesson learned.
After a water break (something the coaches emphasized regularly), it was time for the batting cages. Remember when my husband said at least one person would notice the “Goldy?” A 7-year-old’s exact words were, “Aww, lucky. I wish I had a Goldy bat!”
I’ve never really had a reason to try on a batting helmet, so I quickly learned I can fit into my son’s (ick). I didn’t care, because after a few warm-up swings, I was actually hitting the ball! The hits weren’t pretty, but I certainly made contact.
With only about 40 minutes left, the campers (and I) started to drag a little. After all, we were outside during the middle of summer. Expecting this, the coaches prepared us for the final game of the day: a small scrimmage that quickly boosted energy.
Before I knew it, the coaches called us in and assigned “homework.”
This is actually one of the most impressive components of the camp. The homework is part of the “Diamonds for Success” partnership that focuses on character building, partnership, teamwork, effective communication and sportsmanship. BAM! These are some of the teaching moments I was looking for to take home to my son.
I said my goodbyes, and camp was over. Not bad for my first real day as a baseball player. I was extremely impressed with this camp and the coaches, who I learned are there because they are passionate about two things: baseball and the joy of teaching the game to children.
Experiencing this camp with my son came at the perfect time. Three days later, our family caravanned to Yuma, where Jack and his baseball team won the Cal Ripken 8U State Championship.
Clearly, my son got his baseball skills from me. (Wink, wink.)
Editor’s note: This is the second article in our 2016 series of weekly stories from writers and staff members who spend a day at summer camp. More “My Day at Camp” stories.