The start of Little League baseball is still about a month away, but Saturday's great weather provided a perfect opportunity for kids to take the Free State High School diamond at the Spring Baseball Clinic and tune-up for the upcoming season. Lawrence High School and Free State High School put aside their in town rivalry to host the clinic for ages kindergarten through eighth grade.
"When designing the day we wanted the kids to be able to understand that at their age they might think they play one position, but the reality is they need to know how to play multiple positions," Lawrence High baseball coach Brad Stoll said. "The clinic shows kids the different aspects of the game from hitting to fielding, so they understand the importance of being a versatile player."
The day started with an introduction by Free State baseball coach Mike Hill and Stoll before the 50 kids attending the clinic took to the outfield for stretching. Stretching exercises were followed by running drills that didn't emphasize speed, but execution.
"The camp is offering the kids a chance to get their skills tuned up for the upcoming season, understanding mechanics and leave here thinking the game of baseball is fun," Stoll said.
Both coaching staffs and teams were out at the ballpark to run the clinic, in its first year as a joint venture between the two high school programs.
"These young kids look up to the high school players," Hill said. "I am not sure who benefits more, but the players are able to get a different perspective when they teach the kids skill they have been taught. It definitely gives them a different perspective."
Free State player Robby Price said he enjoyed working with the younger kids for a day.
"It is good to see what the younger kids can do," Price said. "It is just important that we have fun with them and let them know that they need to enjoy playing the game. When they come together like this they always do."
In addition to the programs giving back to the community, the clinic provides the high school teams exposure.Hill said kids in attendance are the ones who one day might want to suit up in a Lions or Firebirds uniform.
"It is a joy to be with the kids and at the same time selfishly expose our programs," said Hill, who is in his ninth-year as Free State head coach.
Coach Hill said the numbers in baseball are dropping so coaches have to work on ways to build connections with kids at a young age.
"A spring clinic like this one is a way to establish a connection with the kids and get them interested in the game and possibly pursuing the game at the high school and collegiate levels," Hill said.
The interest in the baseball clinic exceeded expectations as 15 kids walked up on Saturday to join the 35 who already pre-registered for the three-hours of activities.
The high school staffs led the little leaguers in drills stressing the basic fundamentals of hitting, fielding, catching and pitching by rotating between different stations. From taking time to hit off a tee, soft toss, bunting and soft toss at the hitting station to learning the difference between infield and outfield stances the variety of activities gave the kids a flavor for all facets of the game.
Fourteen-year-old Robert Wagner said he came to the clinic to get ready for the season.
At the young age Hill said you can't overteach a kid on the fundamentals or fun of playing the game.
"Sometimes too much pressure is put on kids to win, but I hope that spending a day at the clinic the kids are exposed to what is important about playing the game of baseball," Hill said.