Jerry Capone keeps the spirit of America's Pastime alive at Paupack
The Yankees might not be still playing baseball, but the kids at Wallenpaupack Area North Elementary are still taking to the diamond twice a week.
While these youngsters are a still a long way from swinging the lumber in the fall classic, just about everyone who’s played for a pennant started in some sandlot somewhere. In these kids’ case, it’s right out the backdoor of the school.
“A concept so old, it's new: Backyard Baseball,” said Jerry Capone, elementary school teacher and skipper for the junior high club.
Just around 3:30 p.m. every Tuesday and Thursday through October fifteen to twenty kids file out of the school and head to the venerable backstop next to the playground adjacent to the school.
There’s some dirt still around home plate but any signs of the base paths succumbed to the lawn long ago.
Some of the youngsters, like 5th grader Jordan Hocker are veteran Little League players and proudly wear some part of their uniform to show their experience.
“It’s fun,” said Hocker excitedly, “I’ve learned new things like better ways to catch.”
Others such as 4th grader Isaiah Hoyte never touched a bat or ball before beginning with the after-school activity a few weeks prior. No matter, everyone is here to learn a little and to have some fun.
“Playing the game is the best,” Hoyte emphatically said. “I learned how to hold a bat and that I have to catch the ball with the glove up.”
Warm-ups and skills kick-off the afternoon. The kids pair up for a few minutes of catch then practice catching pop-ups lofted into the air by Capone.
Field space is at a premium and occasionally the errant soccer ball intrudes on the makeshift diamond. While the kids stay engaged through practice time for the most part, a few migrate temporarily to the monkey bars.
Soon enough though they venture back and take their turns running the bases.
Soon enough the brood splits into two sides for game time.
Recruited from the middle school dugout, 8th grader Peter Lynch and 7th grader Jake Holbert man the mound to sling the strikes towards the youngsters. Both were excited to help out their coach.
“We were expecting to get ten kids,” Holbert said “We didn’t think that this many kids would sign up.”
“The kids seem to have fun every week, and so do we,” Lynch added.
Capone dutifully fills the role of coach and umpire. A trio of swings and misses by a batter might be a K, and then it might not.
Sometimes four, or five strikes is an out. It depends. Like T-Ball, the kids get to bat once per inning no matter how many outs there are, but they keep score too. Somehow, the program skirts the fine line between
“Everybody plays, everybody wins,” and the reality that in baseball, you might strikeout.
Sometimes the kids surprise themselves with a solid hit, a great catch, or a play that unexpectedly goes their way.
On the field they encourage their teammates and once in a while will question a call and show their displeasure with Capone’s ruling with an “Awwwww!” They’re kids, it’s baseball, it’s expected. The point is they accept the call and move on to playing again like nothing happened.
Rain or Shine
Capone originally set the cut-off at 16 kids per session but due to the demand, was asked by the administration to boost the cap to 20.
That’s close to 40 for the whole program since the group that comes on Tuesdays isn’t the same cluster of kids that show up two afternoons later.
If the grass behind the school is too soggy, the players have commandeered parking lots and tennis courts. If the weather is inclement, Capone shifts the operation inside to one of the gymnasiums.
“Obviously, a need and desire for physical activity was very needed. Getting kids off of technology, computer games and video games, iPads and phones, was my main desire,” Capone said.
“The program has surpassed my desire. Thirty-five kids, rain or shine, has me extremely excited. I love teaching and seeing kids play the game of baseball.”