MELISSA — The morning rains cleared just enough on Monday, June 19, to allow scores of young baseball campers to take the field at Melissa Independent School District Stadium for opening stretches and a full session of drills and fundamentals. The four-day camp was offered for incoming kindergarten through ninth grade boys, with the younger students’s sessions kicking off each day at 9 a.m.
On Day 2, both groups were able to move onto Melissa High’s Sydney Field where they remained for the rest of camp. All told, Cardinals head baseball coach Jason Russell said he had about 100 campers participating.
“I’m really excited about it,” he said. “I love seeing these guys happy about baseball. It’s always fun.”
Russell added that he’d looked forward to seeing the campers learning to enjoy the game.
“I hope we can teach them some skills along the way,” he said. “For these guys, it’s about having fun and making sure we know why we’re here. It’s a tough game, it’s a fun game, but it teaches you lessons — and life lessons too. So we hope to coach them up on that a little bit.”
“The big thing is make sure we learn the catching and teach these guys how to throw,” Russell said of the younger campers. “And make sure when we’re warming up we’re doing it the right way and for a purpose. We’re not just out there throwing curveballs and that stuff. When we throw, we long-toss and everything is for a reason. And that is developing arm strength.”
A full complement of Melissa ISD coaches were on hand to assist with the training, including Josh Gilbert, Kyle Dezern, Jerad Castor, Paul Marrufo, Cory Ragan and Travis Pickup, as well as former Cardinal player Zach Torres and just-graduated Cardinals Dalton Vestal and Austin Leonard.
Torres is a 2014 Melissa grad and a veteran of the Cards’ 2013 deep-run playoff team that narrowly missed making the state tournament.
“I just want to be a good role model to these kids,” he said. “When I was their age I also did this camp and I had a lot of fun. I would look up to the older kids all the time. It was always one of my dreams to be on varsity. I just feel it’s very important to pass down what I’ve learned throughout my career here at Melissa as a varsity player and from my career in college. I feel like I can help them out a lot and have fun with them.”
Torres now attends and plays baseball for Hendrix College in Conway, Arkansas.
Melissa Maddock was there on Day 4 with other parents. Her camper son, Andrew, is an incoming fourth grader.
“This was probably his fourth time to come,” she said. “He looks forward to it.”
Standing nearby was Erin Wasserman, who’s sons Jacob and Andrew were in camp.
“I just like the fact that it’s led by the high school,” she said, “And they’re basically growing them up to be in the sports arena at school, teaching them how to be good baseball players, teaching them how to be good Cardinals. It’s just a good program.”
Jason Barbee, Gavin Barbee’s father, agreed.
“He’s enjoying the coaches and the high school kids that are helping them out,” he said. “Every morning he’s up and ready to go, excited to do it.”
Meanwhile on the field, Kye Roberson, 11, said he liked camp scrimmages the most and demonstrated an All-Star attitude: What position does he like to play most?
“Anything the coach needs me at,” he said.
Colton Giarrusso, 10, said he liked “how they’re teaching you other ways to play baseball” and showed an appreciation for back-in-the-day: His favorite major-leaguer?
“He’s retired, but Nolan Ryan,” he said.
A fledgling catcher, Gairrusso’s other favorite player is St. Louis Cardinals’ catcher Yadier Molina.