Baseball camp teaches local kids the game for 35 years
On Friday, June 18, after lunch at the Mark Drury Baseball Camp, a few dozen local kids participated in the best part of backyard baseball: a Wiffle ball home run derby.
For 35 years, Drury and his staff of baseball coaches, players and scouts have set out to make sure the local kids of Summit County learn the fundamentals of America’s pastime. In one week, Drury and his collection of coaches provide more instruction in the game of baseball than the kids would get in a full summer of practices.
“But the whole thing for the camp is to have fun,” Drury, 71, said. “If you have gone the whole week and haven’t had fun, we shouldn’t be taking anyone’s money.”
Since the mid-1980s, Drury has helped to cultivate the talent and skills of Summit’s youth baseball community. He now works hand in hand with Summit Youth Baseball to host the one-week camp at the town of Breckenridge’s Kingdom Park facilities.
Kingdom Park is a far cry from the camp’s yesteryear. Thirty-six years ago, where Kingdom Park and the Breckenridge Recreation Center sit was just brush. The diamonds on which Drury taught kids the ropes were across the Blue River and highway.
“This was not here at all,” Drury said. “The rec center was nothing; it was a dream. We had 18 local kids at that first camp, all from here, and we’ve grown from there.”
Drury said the camp’s older history is even more humbling. He and Marti Woolever — recently released by the Montreal Expos Major League Baseball organization at the time — brought a camp to Summit County after he operated the Art Gaines Baseball Camp as a 30-year-old in 1980 in Honeywell, Missouri. The remote location 30 miles west of Hannibal, Missouri, featured old World War II barracks with bunk beds, no running water in outhouses, no air conditioning and 30-plus days of 100-degree heat.
Drury said the camp has evolved along with Summit County through the years. Years ago, many campers came from international countries like Japan and Germany while visiting on vacation.
These days, most every camper is a Summit local, including two children this week who were able to partake thanks to a Summit Youth Baseball scholarship. The kids are coached by not only Drury, who was a Division II All-American at Southwest Missouri State, but other coaches with years of coaching and scouting experience. That includes a coach this year who has been the area scout for the New York Yankees for the past two decades and another full-time scout who played all the way up to AAA in the minor leagues.
The coaches advance the knowledge of local players like rising Summit High School sophomore Mason Lukasiewicz. Though Lukasiewicz isn’t at the camp this week — he’s playing with a Summit Youth Baseball travel team in Omaha, Nebraska, while attending the College World Series — he progressed his skills at camp two years ago.
“This one week is more instruction time than a full summer rec season,” said Lukasiewicz’s mother, Joy, Summit Youth Baseball administrator. “It helps grow the love of the sport. … The community atmosphere for children is so important. We live in a small community, and we’re bringing kids together from all over, all walks of life. It’s a huge asset for the community to grow and to grow baseball.”
Joy Lukasiewicz said that for the middle-school-age kids at Drury’s camp, it was the first time in months they could spend each day of the week with friends.
The campers’ week reached a crescendo with the Friday post-lunch Wiffle ball home run derby. Drury said camp coaches always make it a big deal, dividing up teams evenly with players of all ages while encouraging creative names.
“And at the end of the week, the winner, each kid gets a bag of Big League Chew, and each kid on the second-place team gets a hearty handshake,” Drury said. “It’s just a hearty handshake; that’s all it is. And they look at us and say, ‘what?’”
Drury has long formatted the home run derby like the classic Home Run Derby show hosted by Mark Scott from 1959 to 1961. Like Scott’s show — which featured 20th century legends like Hank Aaron, Willie Mays and Mickey Mantle — the teams play seven- or nine-inning games where each swing is either a home run or an out if it doesn’t clear the fence. The kids hit from a location in left field that makes it possible for them to clear the fence on a good swing.
Ten-year-old Oliver Raming of Frisco did just that Friday for his team, the Shrimp Monkeys. Raming, who’s favorite MLB player is Colorado Rockies centerfielder Charlie Blackmon, said teammate Jagger Roberts, 11, came up with the name. Roberts said his favorite part of camp for the past six years has been the coach’s message of sportsmanship and putting your love into the game.
Then, young Joshua Held of Frisco, a 9-year-old right fielder, piped up. He had to share that the camp “puts the kindest and nicest coaches in who do a lot of stuff for us.”
After all these years of teaching kids the game, Drury can only smile.
“You know, even the little kids will pop one over the fence in the home run derby every so often,” he said. “And that makes their week, boy. They can never stop talking about it.”
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