20 Years Of Batter Up Memories, Stories

Every time I sent out an email or looked at the brochure for this year’s camp, I couldn’t

believe its been 20 years already of running this camp.  The coaches who have been

involved with the camp, the kids who have gone through and gone on to play in high

school and college, and a few who have made it to pro ball, have made it all worth

the effort.  The most joy I personally get from the camp is watching the little kids

get excited about playing baseball, or hitting their first home run, or making a great

play in the field.  Here are some random thoughts and stories as they pop into my head

about the first 20 years of Batter Up, or The BUP as we call it.

 

My reason for starting the camp was pretty simple, I was in college and working at a

baseball camp in 1993 and they put me on a field with 25 kids by myself and told me to “keep

them busy.”  It was the worst week around baseball in my life. I felt bad for the kids,

as it was hard for them to learn something with one coach and all those kids.   I remember

telling a few close friends of mine that the following summer I was going to start a camp

and we would actually try and teach these kids the game of baseball.  We opened in

East Lyme with two weeks of camp and had a pretty good turnout for back then.  I think

we had about 50 kids those two weeks, and we worked very hard to establish ourselves.

I want to give a shout out to Sam Peretz, the former Parks and Rec Director in East Lyme.

He was very instrumental in helping me get started on the right track.  It was kind of

funny to see parents reaction to seeing a bunch of 21 and 22 year olds teaching their

kids how to play.  I think we won them over…

 

I grabbed a few good friends to help me in those early years, guys like JJ Koning, JR

Chiappone, and Isaak Lazarou among others.  Those of you who know JR know that he

is one of the funniest people you will ever meet.   He also says and does some things

very impulsively.  On one particular warm and muggy July day back in the mid 1990’s,

I couldn’t find Coach Chiappone anywhere and we were about to start our games for

the afternoon.  I looked on all the fields, in the bathrooms, he was nowhere to be found.

I ended up going into the concession stand to find him actually SITTING INSIDE THE

COCA COLA COOLER WITH THE DOOR SHUT.  I am laughing out loud as I type this, as

the look on his face was priceless, as I basically had to drag him out of the cooler kicking

and screaming.

As you all know we do a coach’s home run Derby every week at camp, and the kids and

coach’s all love to see who wins.  How did this start you ask?  It was pretty much like

this, our buddy John McDonald had been promoted to the Major Leagues back in 1999

and had to miss JJ’s wedding as he got called up the day before.  About a week or so

later was the all-star break and Mac was home visiting his family and was going to stop

down at the camp and have some fun with us and the kids.  One thing led to another,

there may have been some trash talk between friends and all of a sudden we were in

a dogfight home run derby using kids bats.  Mac and I ended up tying in the finals, but

JR being JR told the kids that since I didn’t beat Mac outright that I had to buy them

all pizza.  The kids loved it, it hurt my pocket a little but it was worth it.

Speaking of the Home Run Derby, a few years later we are at Bride Brook Park and I

just finished up what I thought was the winning round of the derby when a car pulls

up in center field and starts beeping its horn.  It was JJ, who had to work at his real job

that week but wanted to stop by to see the derby.  He gets out of the car in dockers,

a shirt and tie, and some loafers, and asks if he can get a couple swings.  Well, he ends

up hitting about 12 straight home runs to easily beat me, tells the kids I owe them lunch,

gets back in his car and leaves.  Only JJ, whom we affectionately call the best worst-body

athlete we have ever played with, could pull this off.

 

One year I made the mistake of having Isaak pitch the afternoon game against the kids.

After he hit the first 4 kids, threw one strike in 6 batters we were forced to call the bullpen

on him.  This is the same guy while pitching in high school threw a no hitter against

Berlin, striking out about 12 and walking 10.  He was the Wild Thing, before it became

a national phenomenon.

 

Gilda Puccio, she was my go to coach when I did a softball camp for a few years and

she still doesn’t let me live down the story of her epic commitment to me and to Batter

Up.  I was running my first week of camp for girls and Gilda was the head coach of New

London High’s team.  I had put her in the brochure, and said she was my ace for that week.

Everybody loved Gilda and she was a great role model for the girls, so I knew she would

be a great asset at camp.  Anyway, about a week before camp starts she remembers

that she is scheduled to go to a concert in Wheeling, West Virginia called Jamboree

in the Hills.  She and a group of friends were heading down there for a few days to relax

and enjoy the concert…except that I reminded her that camp started Monday and I

couldn’t run a softball camp without her.  After some choice words for me, she promised

me she would be there as the concert was scheduled to end sometime around 8pm Sunday

night.  Camp starts at 9am Monday morning, and I am anxious.  Needless to say, come

8:59am there is a car coming in on two wheels and its Gilda.  When she gets out of the car,

let’s just say she has looked better before and since then.    She had driven through the night with

her friends in order to keep her commitment to me and the kids.  Gilda was exhausted

but you never would have known it from the way she coached that day.  I have had to

hear about this and what she did for me for the past 15 years or so, as now whenever

she needs something from me I can never give her an excuse of I’m too tired or busy,

it won’t cut it.

 

There are a bunch of other stories I will add in the next few days, including many of

the kids stories, great plays, games, etc.   Thinking back on some of these stories makes

me think maybe we have another 20 good years of camp left in the tank.

One response to “20 Years Of Batter Up Memories, Stories”

  1. Bad Body says:

    Hard to believe that The “BUP” has consumed half our lives! The memories from the camp and the kids who are in their late 20’s now still calling us “Coach” is incredible!

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