After about three failed attempts, former professional baseball player Ben Boulware finally gets the full attention of 65 6- to 16-year-olds squirming in the bleachers at the Soldotna Little League ball fields.
Boulware, one of the coaches at America's Baseball Camps, has a final message to conclude the three-day camp.
So, with this last chance, what would he choose for the lasting impression? Proper batting stance? Fielding techniques? Or even just a simple 'Always have fun?'
"To me, the most important part of the camp is right now," said Boulware, who spent his pro career with the Chicago White Sox organization. "No matter what you do and no matter what age you are, you have to make the right decisions in life.
"Every decision you make in life, good or bad, is going to have consequences."
Boulware went on to tell the ballplayers the importance of staying away from alcohol, tobacco and drugs. He also told them how important it is to set goals in life, then work hard toward those goals.
Clearly, America's Baseball Camps, which has been at 135 locations in the past three years and is based in Arizona, is about more than baseball.
The camp uses former pro players -- in Soldotna's case Boulware and eight-year Major League veteran Byron Browne -- to teach baseball and life lessons.
"We feel, as pro athletes, we're in a good position to be positive role models," Boulware said.
Participants in the America's Baseball Camps clinic at Soldotna Little League trade baseball cards during lunch Wednesday. See story, page
Photo by M. Scott Moon
Kim Gardner, a former board member for Soldotna Little League, brought the camp to the peninsula last year. This year's camp cost $50 for three sessions that went from 9 a.m. to 1:30 p.m.
"When (my son) Severin was this age, they didn't have much around here for camps," Gardner said. "We ended up sending him Outside to learn baseball.
"I tried to get something here where kids could learn baseball and hopefully have a good time."
Boulware, who played in the Alaska Baseball League in 1992 with the Mat-Su Miners and Peninsula Oilers, relished the opportunity to return to Alaska in the summer. His one regret was he didn't get to go fishing this time.
Each of the campers received a sticker that read "Right Decisions/Right Now." The message appeared to stick.
Jeromy Hale, a 14-year-old in Soldotna Little League, was asked what he learned from the camp.
"I learned about attitude," he said. "If you want to do something, you have to commit to it."
The parents of the campers also seemed to appreciate the message.
"I hope it sinks in and helps them make the right decisions," said Sue Cassidy, the mother of campers Kyle, 10, and Kelli, 12. "I hope it makes them think about their decisions rather than going full speed ahead."
Boulware and Browne received help at the camp from a number of former Little League players from Soldotna and Kenai.
Chris Mabeus, who played with the Soldotna Little League from ages 8 to 15, went 11-0 this year for National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics champion Lewis-Clark State College.
Mabeus helped out at the camp all three days and said he loved the campers' attitudes.
"Sometimes doing these things can be tough if the kids already think they know it all," Mabeus said. "There wasn't any of that here.
"Everybody wanted to learn and have fun."
Paul John Zobeck, who played eight years with the Soldotna Little League, is one of the top hitters on the American Legion Post 20 Twins.
The 2000 graduate of Soldotna High School said it was too bad more kids didn't get to experience the camp.
"In the last couple of years, there haven't been as many kids going out for Little League," Zobeck said. "I wonder if the kids who aren't playing baseball are doing other stuff.
"What the coaches are telling these kids is meant to keep them away from that other stuff. It's simple, but it's to the point."
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