For Chase McElhaney and Drew Branstrom, Jayhawk Baseball Camp is so close, yet so far away. Both boys live in Lawrence, but they made Naismith Hall their home June 27-30 for the Super Skills camp, the second of three Jayhawk baseball camps in the summer session.
The campers forgot the Cardinals jerseys, Firebirds T-shirts and Royals hats they were wearing, and became Jayhawks for four days. This meant learning to play Kansas University head baseball coach Ritch Price's brand of high-energy, positive baseball. From 7:30 a.m. wake-up until 10:30 p.m. lights out, campers inundated themselves with baseball.
"Their schedule always has them busy doing something," said Julie Branstrom, Drew's mom.
By the end of the camp, the boys were not only emulating Price's energetic approach to baseball, but throughout the drills, campers exchanged the same positive outbursts they had heard Price use, such as "Good hit, baby" or "Way to go, Big Time."
"He's such a positive influence on kids," said Debbie McElhaney, Chase's mother. "The instructors connect with the kids on their level."
Debbie and Julie agreed that the low numbers at the camp, coupled with the coaching staff, makes the camp effective for their sons. KU assistant coach Reggie Christiansen said Price's involvement is one thing that sets Jayhawk baseball camp apart from other camps.
"The opportunity to interact with a head coach at a Division One school is not something you usually find at a camp," Christiansen said. "I think he's probably the only Division One baseball coach that works as hard at the camps as he does."
Baker head coach Phil Hannon and Pittsburg State University assistant coach John Hill, along with KU baseball players, joined the KU coaching staff to create a 1-to-5 coach to player ratio.
Debbie said one of Chase's favorite parts about camp was having players help him with his skills.
"It means so much more coming from someone they go watch in the spring," Debbie said.
Price agrees that having the players help out is a great asset to the camps. While some players scrimmaged with the coaches, others worked with KU players on hitting in the left-field batting cages. As the camp closed, campers had an autograph session with the camp's coaches.
"It's a special thing for the boys," Price said. "The kids love the fact that the players that these boys idolize are working with them."
If playing on the field at Hoglund Ballpark and working with college players and coaches wasn't enough of an appeal for the campers, the variety of activities throughout the camp was one thing that especially kept them motivated.
"Everybody got to do something that they wanted to do," camper Lucas Folks, of Osawatomie, said.
Many of the boys said their favorite activity was the camp's closing drill. Two teams competed in a fast-paced, high-scoring drill to see how many hits they could get in a set amount of time.
Players scored one point if it hit the dirt, two points if it hit the grass and five points if the ball got past all of the defenders. Teams were docked points for not hustling.
Christiansen said that drills like this enhanced the competitive activities at the camps.
"The combination of instruction with competition allows campers to translate what they are learning to
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competitive situations," Christiansen said.
PlThe intense days of baseball make for a great opportunity for campers to bond both on and off the field.
Debbie said that Chase looked forward to coming to the camp so he could play with kids he normally didn't get to play with. He had made friends at the camp last summer, and two of the three boys he met then had come back this year.
Even off the field during their nightly hour-and-a-half of free time, the boys bonded through baseball.
"Living in the dorms was so much fun," said Folks. "We got to go to each other's rooms and play video games."
He said when they had free time at night, the player would meet up to play baseball video games like All-Star Baseball 2004. Campers had the option of commuting daily to the camp, but many found their off-the-field highlights to be the residence hall experience.
'To the kids, they feel like they are away at camp, but it's nice because we can still come watch them play during our lunch hour," Debbie said.
This is the third Jayhawk baseball camp Chase has attended since Price began coaching them, and the second time he has spent the night at camp.
Although Jayhawk baseball camps revolve around improving baseball-related skills of young players in an energetic and competitive environment, the Super Skills camp is unique from the other two summer camps. With more than 12 hours of daily activity, it is more rigorous than the three-hour camp held earlier this month. The Super Skills camp puts more emphasis on teaching fundamentals to the younger kids in comparison to the showcasing talent and skill development like at the All-Star camp for high school players later this month.
"The coaches do a great job of targeting the age group they are dealing with," Debbie said.
The All-Star camp scheduled for July 27-30 will be similar to the Super Skills camp because there will be a solid focus on developing skills. However it is adapted so older players will be able to showcase their talents to the array of coaches that Price brings in from a variety of levels, from junior colleges to the Ivy League schools, from across the country to unite for the most intense of the three camps.
At the All-Star camp, participants practice for half of the day and compete in games during the other half. The coaches assess players' skills throughout the week, which is sent to them after the camp is over. Coaches also give campers a heads-up on what to expect at the next level with a "College night," where information about more than 20 colleges and universities is present.
Even though the camps teach players skill they need to be competitive ball players, they remind them that having fun is the most important part of the game.
"We want them to get better, but more importantly, we want them to have fun," Christiansen said.
Price said that his favorite part is seeing the smile on the kids' faces.
"The kids have so much energy and love for baseball," Price said. "Coming to camps just increases players' passion for the game."