Ever wonder what it's really like to throw or hit a baseball on a Minor League Baseball field with some talented semi-pro players?
I'm sure it's a dream for many of our young players here in town and for some of us old folk as well. After all, we're all young at heart!
Each year, the Blue Claws management staff and players host a skills clinic on their home field for area Challenger division players (Little League) and Buddy Ball division players (Babe Ruth League) who range in age from 5-21 and their buddies (peers who assist them).
Players from the "Buddy Ball" division of the Point Pleasant Youth Baseball and Softball Association (PPYBSA) got the chance to experience the thrill of working with four current members of the Lakewood Blue Claws semi-pro team this past Saturday at First Energy Park from 10 am to noon.
They were joined by teams from Lakewood and Toms River.
I tagged along as a proud parent of one of the players. My daughter Brittany, a senior at Point Boro High School, has been participating in the Buddy Ball program since 2005.
As both a parent and as an educator, it always brings a smile to my face to watch her participate in the sport with her peers and with fellow students from the high school who have signed on as buddies.
During the clinic, the kids rotated through four instructional stations. They were given tips on hitting from pitcher Chase Johnson, fielding grounders from catcher Torre Langley, fielding pop-ups by pitcher Colby Shreve and the art of pitching by pitcher David Buchanan.
Following the skill work, all challenger players and their buddies were treated to a free lunch and an autograph session with the four young men.
The smiles on their faces said it all. What a joy to watch them interact with the minor league players! And I must say, these players demonstrated a genuine interest in these kids!
Point Pleasant Boro had a Challenger League for approximately eight years when the town participated in Little League Baseball.
At that time it was run by Tom Henrich and Mike Pizzi, according to Point residents Scott and Debbie Conklin.
The Conklins took over the division in 2004 when the town switched to the Babe Ruth League for baseball and softball. At that point, the name was changed to Buddy Ball.
Debbie Conklin, who, along with her husband, is also involved with the basketball and soccer challenger programs in town, said, "The program has grown from using one (baseball) field to two as we have two age groups participating.
"We have about 12 buddies this year and that is about average, maybe two are Boro High School baseball team members, and then some are from Memorial Middle School and one is from St. Denis Elementary School in Manasquan," she said.
"Some just have helped us for years. We have kids (on the teams) from Point Beach, Point Boro, Brick, Manasquan, Wall, Spring Lake, etc."
There are no Boro residency requirements to participate.
In addition to the Conklins, official coaches for this year's teams include Shawn McCarthy, Denis Nobel, Rick Serra, Peter Gonella, and Eric Chalakani.
The Point Buddy Ball players, their buddies, and coaches take the field on Fridays from 5 to 7 p.m. every Friday at McKennan Lake Field for some action-packed innings of America's past time!
Next up on the schedule for these terrific players and their buddies is the PPYBSA's Fun Day on Friday. The group is also planning to play a game on the field at First Energy Park in June.
The season runs from Mid-April until the end of June. Player registration is open until the end of May. For more information, log on to www.leaguelineup.com/pointpleasantbuddyball
Hope to see you at the field!