For the past few weeks, the school day ends and there’s a group of Paul Banks Elementary School kindergarten, first- and second-graders that aren’t so eager to head home. Instead, they exchange their books for balls, bats and bases. Forming a sort-of straight line between Don Felton and Kate Crowley, the youngsters head out to the field behind the school for some “baseball basics,” a program organized by Homer Little League.
“Kathy Beachy, league president, asked if I’d be interested in doing this. I’ve been coaching for 20-some odd years and I said certainly. I love working with kids, especially these little guys because they have no pressure on them and just have a blast,” said Felton.
Of the eager youngsters Felton and Crowley are introducing to baseball, Felton added, “These kids are smart and well-behaved and they get it. They just get it.”
Crowley grew up with a baseball-playing brother. That kind of an environment — “you get dragged to the games and you’re at the field” — led to her interest in playing softball and has since evolved into an interest in coaching. Her son, Henry, a first-grader, is on the Paul Banks’ team.
“This is a good little program. It’s fun for sure,” said Crowley, who helped with the Paul Banks after-school program last year and is back at it again this spring.
Each of the program’s eight sessions begins with a snack, a run around the field and some stretching. The warm-up also includes practicing important moves, like high- and low-fives and the baseball shuffle, a celebratory dance Felton and Crowley demonstrate and the young athletes mimic in preparation for celebrating memorable experiences on the field. Before dividing into teams and putting on their jerseys, there also is practice in the proper baseball stance that allows for a fast response and the arm movements needed for throwing.
Then, with Felton in the field with one team and Crowley at the plate with the team up to bat, the action commences. Sometimes Felton has to rein in non-baseball behaviors, like attempts to scale the chain-link fence lining the field or the backstop. Sometimes it all gets a little confusing, like knowing which direction to run or ending up with two players on the same base. Figuring out those details are exactly why the program is called “baseball basics.”
“This is a great way to start your baseball career,” said Felton.
It also is an opportunity for Felton and Crowley to sort out which of the young baseball players are just being introduced to the sport and others who have some experience. A perfect example occurred recently when Crowley’s son, whom Felton has nicknamed “Hammering Hank,” was up to bat.
“That kid hit a line shot and it would have hit me in between the eyes, but I saw it about 10 feet from me and got my hands up and knocked it down,” said Felton, “It was just a rip of a hit.”
One thing all the youngsters and the two coaches share is a high level of enthusiasm and energy. The fun factor at the after-school program is off the charts, and that, say the coaches, it what the program is all about.
“I’m here to help these kids understand what a great game baseball is. But better than that, I’m here to tell the parents, ‘Play with your children.’ We’re all so busy, but playing catch with your kid is just a wonderful thing,” said Felton.
To illustrate his point, Felton referred to a scene from the Kevin Costner movie “Field of Dreams.”
“What Costner said when he saw his dad come out of that cornfield was, ‘Dad, you want to have a catch?’ That’s the story. That’s what I want to tell these parents. (The kids) are only six years old once. Envelope this. Enjoy this. I don’t want parents to say, ‘Oh, I missed that opportunity,’” said Felton.
“We want the kids to have fun. Maybe learn a couple of things, but really, it’s about having fun,” she said. “If they’re having fun, they just want to keep doing it. At this age, that’s one of the major goals: Just keep it light and have fun and try things out.”
Programs similar to the one at Paul Banks also are being offered for fourth- through sixth-graders at West Homer Elementary School, with Jim Stearns and Mike Hayes coaching, and a program for 13- through 16-year-old boys offered at Homer Middle School with Mark Brinster coaching.
Homer Little League begins its season at Karen Hornaday Park at noon May 17. Online registration is available at homerlittleleague.org. Cost to participate is:
• Youngsters ages 4-6, T-ball, $45;
• Youngsters ages 7-16, baseball, $65;
• Girls ages 9-15, softball, $65.
Little League registration also will be available at Paul Banks’ summer activity fair from 5-6:30 p.m. Friday and at the Safe Kids Fair at Homer High School from 10 a.m.-2 p.m. Saturday.
A free skills clinic follows the Safe Kids Fair in the HHS gym for ages 7-16, from 2-4 p.m.
“We have an average of 185 kids sign up,” said Beachy. “All the games are held at Karen Hornaday Park on four different fields.”
An umpire class also is being planned for May 10.
“If you want to learn about baseball, about umpiring, about anything involving the game, come to this class,” said Felton. “
For more information about Homer Little League, contact Beachy at 299-2774.