WALNUT CREEK -- Closing in on the end of its rookie season, the debut of the San Francisco Giants Baseball Camp at Walnut Creek's Heather Farms has been a winner.
On the field during the recent weeklong camp, nearly 80 kids ages 5-14, smartly dressed in official Giants cap-to-neon-orange-socks uniforms, handle grounders, catch pop flies, hit homers, strike out, win, lose and operate as part of a team. Arranged in groups according to age, the morning is dedicated to skill-building drills led by coaches with professional experience handling kids. Afternoons are reserved for games, a World Series and baseball olympic throwing competitions. One day of camp is a VIP tour of AT&T Park where campers meet current and former Giants players.
"You don't hire high school or college kids for this -- you hire people who are experts at dealing with children," says camp Executive Director Kevin Hoover, about his staff. "That matters almost more than their baseball experience."
But right off the bat, it's clear there's no dearth of talent on the field. Walnut Creek site director Brandon Trodick was drafted twice by the Minnesota Twins, before injuries sent him to become a personal trainer and baseball clinic operator in his hometown of Las Vegas. Now living in Mountain View, he said the level of talent in Walnut Creek is above average, and that the youth baseball community is teaching the game the right way.
Michael Carmody, a Pleasant Hill-based sports consultant, played college ball and also succumbed to injuries. He stayed in the game by coaching Little League in Concord and although the St. Louis native confessed to being a Cardinals fan, he said, "This summer, my team is the Giants." During his 12-week stint as a camp coach, he found each community had its own flavor and Walnut Creek kids' "Yes, sir" and "OK, coach," put them ahead of the curve. "It's character that counts, as much as talent," Carmody said.
Hoover, hired by the Giants organization to bring to the camps the expertise he gained running his company KMH Summer Camps, Inc., said Heather Farms is gorgeous, safe and a "top of the list" location. The idea to hold the camps was hatched soon after the Giants won the 2012 World Series; an East Bay camp was also held in June in Danville.
"We bussed 40 kids from Orinda down there," Hoover recalled. "We had a strong positive reaction in both locations, so we'll run more than one week of camp next year and are looking at holding fall and winter clinics this year in East Bay locations."
Olivia Cooper, 11, might be first in line, if they do. A pitcher and shortstop from Davis, she said her ability to handle pop flies has climbed from 2, to a 7, on a scale of 10. "I'm grateful for my mom and dad driving me out here and for the camp allowing girls," she said. Cooper's favorite player is Buster Posey, because she likes how he hits home runs. "Except now he's getting lower and I'm waiting for him to pull up," Cooper said. "My advice is that he has fun and always watch the ball. Look at the rope-ish part: stare at the stitches and hit the ball."
Scott Krantzman, 12, a Walnut Creek Intermediate 7th grader, said he's been working on getting his glove out in front and setting his feet to field grounders. "In batting, I worked to turn my foot, like this," he said, pivoting smartly and leaving a clean divot in the dirt.
Will Van Voorhis, 8, a student at Orinda's Wagner Ranch Elementary, said seeing the Giants two World Series trophies was cool. "Are they real gold?" he asked.
Not waiting for an answer, he offered advice for the pros: "Even if you're down by 5, you shouldn't give up, because you'll get back," he said. Perhaps they'll win by sliding, like he did on "get dirty day," or by catching more foul ball pop ups, he suggested.
On the final day of camp, Hoover said "we don't give out gaudy trophies," because effort is valued over results. "There's an active push to make this like spring training: we try to foster a culture that uses a little fuss as a teachable moment," he said. "You won't always be first, or get a home run, but baseball is a great teacher about life."
To learn about fall and winter clinics, or to register for Summer Camp 2015, visit http://www.sfgiantscamps.com/ or like the organization here on Facebook.