There was baseball, there was a drone and there were dogs.
Youngsters from the Boys & Girls Clubs of Fort Wayne got to experience a little bit of everything at Wednesday's Badges for Baseball Clinic at the ASH Centre, an opportunity for local police officers to interact with kids from the Boys & Girls Clubs, with baseball as the conduit.
“The World Baseball Academy and the ASH Centre really has been a community project,” WBA CEO Caleb Kimmel said. “How we make a difference in our community is developing young people to be difference-makers. This event is just another piece of the puzzle on how we use baseball for all the right reasons.”
The Clinic, which the WBA hosted in partnership with the Cal Ripken Sr. Foundation, featured a mass of pre-teen children in bright red Boys & Girls Club shirts hitting, running the bases, learning how to fly a drone, meeting police dogs and playing dodgeball.
Some stations were more popular than others – when one drone instructor asked if there were any questions, a hand went up and the query came: “When can we play dodgeball?” – but at all of them officers from the Fort Wayne Police Department roamed the baseball fields instructing and encouraging the Club attendees.
“A lot of times when these kids have contact with the police, it's under stressful situations, something bad going on in their lives,” Sgt. Brad Griffin of the Fort Wayne Police Department said. “We want them to know we're very approachable and we like to come out and have fun with them.
“I think it's more fun for us than it is for the kids.”
Officer James Payne, who umpires youth baseball games in which Griffin's son sometimes plays, spent much of the afternoon at the baserunning station, chatting with the participants as they prepared to take a swing and sprint to first base.
“To see these kids happy, just running around and enjoying themselves, that's what it's about, being a kid, no worries in the world,” Payne said.
In addition to the officers assisting, the baseball stations were led by a combination of Cal Ripken Sr. Foundation members the CSRF flew out for the event and Boys & Girls Club counselors and staffers. Among the latter group was Christopher Wallace, a partnership coordinator at the Club.
Wallace professed himself a huge baseball fan and emphasized that he wants the kids to be introduced to the sport at a young age.
“On the southeast side of Fort Wayne, we don't see a lot of baseball,” Wallace said, as the beat of Kool & the Gang's “Celebration” blared in the background. “This year, we had a league, but we want to get more kids out. ... We're trying introduce (the sport) back to them, so they understand there's more than just football and basketball.”
Not all of the campers at the event were baseball fans: “No, I like soccer,” one boy said when asked whether he enjoyed playing baseball. But others were having a good time.
“I like baseball,” Brandon Davis, 8, said. “I like hitting home runs.”