Diamonds Can Be A Kid’s Best Friend

6/20/2007 – Daily News Record

Turks Play ‘Serious Baseball’ With Boys & Girls Club Written By Kelly Jasper Daily News Record Jyrel Lombardi, 9, keeps his eye on the ball as he makes a catch during a baseball workshop with the Harrisonburg Turks at the Boys & Girls Club on Tuesday. Turks’ operations manager Teresa Wease said the kids weren’t the only ones to benefit from the experience. "This is a chance for them to learn, too, by teaching," she said of the Turks. Photo by Pete Marovich HARRISONBURG — A few feet from home plate, Garrett Parker pitches the ball. A batter sends it soaring past the infield, but Rod Brantley catches the fly. The batter takes off for first base anyway. He’s not really out because no one’s really keeping score. The Harrisonburg Turks have a winning season to defend, but no one even tries to tag the runner. Something is definitely off. Parker, a Texas native, doesn’t usually pitch from near home plate. And Brantley, who also hails from Texas, isn’t even an outfielder. His normal position is catcher. The batter, at most, is 3 feet tall. Yet, he’s playing side-by-side with the Turks, a Valley League team made up of college ballplayers. The Boys & Girls Clubs of Harrisonburg and Rockingham County planned the outing, inviting dozens of children to a workshop led by the Turks’ coaches and players. They flooded the field outside the Simms Center in the early afternoon sun Tuesday. Of course they started, as any good ballplayer would, with a few stretches. Back To The Basics "One, two, three, four," Turks catcher Andrew Franco shouted. By time he got to 10, the kids were shouting along with him. Franco, a Florida native who plays at Appalachian State in Boone, N.C., encouraged it. "I want to hear you guys nice and loud!" He led the group through a series of warm-ups before each Turk grabbed a few kids for one-on-one drills. They pitched and fielded, caught fly balls and grounders, practicing their footwork with each step. It was like most other drills, except the Turks threw underhand and the players wielded pint-sized bats. A few balls skipped the ground between players’ feet and others flew out of reach above outstretched arms. But, as Franco said, "We’ve all got to start somewhere." He hopes that message sticks with the kids long after Tuesday’s workshop. "It’s important that everyone has something to take away from this," Franco said. The Turks included. Some ‘Serious Baseball’ The field, Teresa Wease, the team’s operations manager says, is an outdoor classroom for the kids and players. "It’s good for them to go back to remembering the basics," Wease said of the Turks. "This is a chance for them to learn, too, by teaching. It’s a change of pace." The players agreed. They say the workshop offered a rare respite from their six-game-a-week schedule. The Turks soaked it up, stopping to sign autographs and pose for photos with a giant "Welcome Turks" banner the kids made and hung outside the Simms Center. The Turks are used to the attention by now. After all, they’re playing some "serious baseball" right now, said pitching coach Mike Ranson. The team stood atop the Valley League with a 9-3 record going into Tuesday’s action. The Turks are used to success, with several Turk alumni having been drafted into the major leagues. Those players probably owe their thanks to many Little League programs and community workshops like this one, Ranson said. "Someone has obviously taught these boys how to play when they were this age," Ranson said. "These guys were here 10 years ago." Maybe it goes both ways. Some of the Boys & Girls Club members could play like the Turks one day, Ranson said. After all, some of the kids showed real promise. Brantley played catch with one kid who could launch the ball across the field. "He’s got a cannon for an arm," Brantley said. But, even those who don’t think they’ve got a future in baseball said they learned something from the workshop. Ciara Barber, 13, of Harrisonburg hit every ball thrown to her. "I’ve never played before," she said. "But it turned out to be something fun I could do." That’s just what the Turks wanted to hear.