Three hundred boys and girls stood on baseball diamonds at Verona High School Thursday morning waiting patiently for the arrival of New York Yankee starting pitcher CC Sabathia for the start of The PlayStation CC Sabathia Baseball ProCamp.
Under a hot morning sun, the children came from all over New Jersey to learn the fundamentals of baseball from top coaches in the area, and New York Yankee CC Sabathia himself.
Most attendees had their Yankee gear on, while still others wore jerseys representing their Little League teams, but everyone was there to learn the tricks of the trade whether participating on the field or watching in the stands.
Swarms of kids arrived at the check-in gate, with eager smiles and baseball equipment in tow. After getting their wristbands and camp shirts, campers wasted no time running on the field, waiting to be called into groups.
“It’s a great day for baseball,” the announcer said as children were divided into groups based on their age in order to receive personalized instruction, with the oldest division consisting of 12-14-year olds all the way down to the youngest division made up of 6-8-year olds.
Verona resident Tyler Coppola said he came to the camp to “have fun and learn to pitch,” while North Caldwell Nationals player Quentin Reeves said he “came to learn the fundamentals of baseball.”
Sabathia looked like a big kid himself as he was running around and interacting with the campers.
When he stopped to speak to them in small groups about his pitching style, some kids looked up at him awestruck, listening intently. Others mimicked his moves.
A few campers voluntarily showed him their swing, catching and pitching styles, asking for any tips the Yankees ace might have.
“Good arm,” Sabathia said to one boy, “keep practicing.” He ended each drill high fiving each group before he went to the next, and in between groups he signed baseballs and shirts, and took pictures if time permitted.
From 9 a.m. to 12:30 p.m., each group rotated through various stations, where they stretched, did warm-ups and drills, played games, and learned everything including the correct stance when hitting a ball, pitching, throwing and catching skills, and in-field play.
Some coaches spent time quizzing campers on their skills knowledge.
Children would raise their hands and respond with their best guesses to questions like, “How should you catch a fly ball?” or “What’s a good strategy when pitching against a left-handed hitter?” before beginning their drills.
Campers weren’t the only attendees that came to see Sabathia. Parents, siblings, and local fans came to watch the drills and get a glimpse of the 2007 Cy Young winner — many with hopes they’d get to talk to him or even get a picture.
Harshil Limbachia and his friend Anthony Huber, both of Verona, came just to see Sabathia, and looked nearly shocked after getting a picture with him.
“I’m a huge fan…I live a block away and had to come see him,” Limbachia said.
When asked what he thinks of Verona kids, Sabathia laughed, “they’re awesome…they’re all having a great time,” adding, “these kids are at an age where you can still mold them and teach them how to play, and they enjoy playing.”
Parents and friends watched from the stands, and campers were quiet and wide-eyed as they listened to the World Series Champion speak about his experience at baseball camp as a kid, his flourishing career, and emphasizing his love for baseball.
“I always had a love for the game,” he said. “Growing up I always wanted to get better.”
The kids also had the opportunity to ask Sabathia questions and they certainly didn’t hold back.
“Who is your favorite Red Sox player?” one camper asked, while a spectator asked him one-on-one what it’s like to be so tall.
Many kids left with a lasting impression of Sabathia, including 12-year-old Kayla Francisco who said she cried when she met her favorite pitcher, while a boy yelled “that was amazing” to his mom after getting a picture with him.
After a day playing the National Pastime, the campers left with an autographed team photo with the pitcher, an exclusive Jordan Brand camp T-shirt and a goody bag with free merchandise.