The heck with football and basketball. The hardy boys of winter took to Valley Center Little League’s La Vine Field on Sunday, gloves and big league hopes in hand.
“We’re just having fun, some pitching, some hitting, pretty much hanging out” said Dylan McFadden, a Valley Center High School sophomore, and second baseman, between hacks at the batting cage in the far northern reaches of La Vine Field, 28246 Lilac Road. “I’m picking up some pretty good hitting techniques.”
Welcome to the Valley Center Baseball Club (VCBC) Second Annual Pro Baseball Camp for boys and girls ages 7-to-18.
Some of the area’s best, and brightest, young students of the game pitched, hit and fielded their way to better fundamentals, in baseball and in life. A full day of clinics ended with a pro player Q-and-A session, autograph session and photo opportunity.
Boston Red Sox pitching prospect Mike McCarthy led pitching drills in one corner of the field. Tampa Bay Rays minor leaguer Oscar Sanay led fielding drills in another. Former Padres prospect now managing the team’s Dominican League squad, Jeremy Rodriguez, tutored hitting and general play. Toronto Blue Jays AA catcher Martin Medina showed off the tools of ignorance, otherwise known as the catcher’s trade.
Words like awesome and fun were thrown across the diamond as VCBC president Rob Baranowski oversaw with great enthusiasm. Not only did Baranowski, along with the likes of his wife Anita Barankowski and Amy Archipov, and other club members get the group in gear, but he even attended to raking the infield dirt as camp proceeded in fun and glory.
“Mike drove all the way from Bakersfield,” Baranowski said. “He also works with Baseball Miracles who are working with kids in Africa. Oscar is from Chula Vista, Martin is from Murrieta, Jeremy from Sherman Oaks, which is amazing, four hours one-way.
“They’re showing the kids what happens in a professional bullpen, practicing rundowns and playing pickle games. The guys are very creative teaching, a really good mix, giving them mechanics and footwork help, but also the mentality of what it takes to play.”
Instructional talent was a big draw for the 60, or so, kids whooping it up while soaking it in. Rodriguez was a kind of general manager. Fittingly, since Rodriguez two years ago took over head coaching duties for the baseball club, and took them from a gentleman who went on from that position to the big-time.
That would be Dave Stewart, former MLB all-star, who was convinced by Barankowski to coach the kids just prior to assuming the helm of general manager of the Arizona Diamondbacks. Getting pros involved with the program is one aspect that makes the area such a baseball hotbed. Ryan Lehr, former Atlanta Braves player and co-founder of The Pure Swing also has coached at VCBC.
As an aside, “I kept asking Stew month after month if he knew of anybody who could coach the team,” Barankowski said with a laugh. “Finally, he said, ‘You know what, I’ll do it.”
Back to Rodriguez who now spends his baseball time in the Dominican and yielded day-to-day coaching duties to Sanay. He played ball at Cal State University Bakersfield. The other clinicians played with him for the CSU Bakersfield Roadrunners.
Sanay has been to every VCBC practice in the last year, according to Barankowski. They take place Monday and Friday with games on the weekends. It’s a year-round schedule with the Fall season ending just before christmas and Spring scrimmages starting last week. Medina attends at least a practice a week.
That is, when the pros aren’t in session. Speaking of which, fellow CSU Bakersfield baseball alumni Mike McCarthy was getting ready to fight for a spot on the Boston Red Sox AAA roster at Pawtucket following a successful 2015 splitting time between Pawtucket and Class AA Portland, Maine. That didn’t deter him from showing up and showing skills to the cream of the local baseball crop.
“It’s been awesome,” McCarthy said between pitching drills. “The kids were great. Everyone is having a blast as they learn high level skills. Rob is doing an awesome job with high quality instruction in baseball and life.
“The techniques we’re teaching depends on their age,” McCarthy said. “We’re teaching the younger kids position mechanics. The older kids are getting techniques like gaining their power on the backside of throws, and hitting the cutoff man.”
So it went in a land where Winter means nothing when it comes to America’s pasttime passing between generations. St. Joseph’s Academy Second Grader Daniel Stehly was one of the youngest guns on the diamond.
“We played pickle,” Stehly said. “We played catch. I like the Padres and Derek Norris is my favorite player.”
Then, Daniel turned back to the field as the game played on.
For more information about Valley Center Baseball Club, visit http://www.vcbaseball.org.