A third-grade girl in an Anderson Elementary School uniform looks excited yet a little apprehensive as she takes her turn swinging at the ball perched on top of a batting tee. She chokes up high on the bat, takes aim. It’s a swing and a miss.
“That’s okay,” says Kevin Lugo, a kinesiology major who plays first base for California State University, Dominguez Hills’ (CSUDH) baseball team. “Try again.”
He places another ball on the tee. The girl wipes the hair out of her eyes, pulls the bat way back and let’s it rip, smashing the ball into a net a few feet away. The girl smiles and jogs to the back of the line before another kid steps up.
For some, the Division of Kinesiology and Recreation’s new “KIN 495S: Theory of Coaching Baseball and Softball” course may seem a little too fun for an academic class–and it is. Launched this fall semester, this unique course enables Kinesiology students and players on CSUDH’s baseball and softball teams to work with retired major and minor league players, their coaches and others to teach children how to play ball during weekly baseball camps. However, it is the critical professional development skills the students learn during course lectures and the opportunity to provide a healthy introduction to athletic fundamentals for impressionable children from lower-income families in the Compton Unified School District that they and the kids will take far beyond the baseball diamond.
“This is an incredible opportunity for our softball and baseball players who are interested in coaching,” says George Wing, the most successful head coach in CSUDH baseball history, who returned to serve as interim head coach this fall. “Not only will they be taught in class by our exceptional coaching staff here at Cal State Dominguez Hills, but they will also receive one-on-one instruction from some of the biggest names in Major League Baseball. Then they will pass their new knowledge and skills down to the children. It’s the epitome of a win-win, and we’re all about winning.”
Freshman Ernie Abundis, a Health Science-Radiology Technician major from Lakewood and middle-infielder for CSUDH’s baseball team, shared his plans for teaching baseball to the kids at Anderson Elementary during the fall semester’s first baseball camp on Sept. 26.
“Today we want to teach them a little bit of the fundamentals of baseball. It’s a great team sport that requires people to help each other out. So hopefully these kids, at their young age, will fall in love with the game,” said Abundis. “As a middle-infielder, I will be teaching them how to field the ball and work their hands and feet at the same time. I think they’ll get a good physical and mental workout. Baseball is a very mental sport.”
The course was created in partnership with the nonprofit Major League Baseball Urban Youth Academy (MLB Academy), established in 2006 at Compton Community College District. Staffed by former major and minor league players, collegiate coaches, scouts and others, the academy also partners with school districts, higher education and youth organizations to foster academic and personal growth by providing comprehensive baseball and softball instruction at its 10-acre state-of-the-art facility, and in the community.
Doug Takaragawa, MLB Academy coordinator, has enjoyed the many success stories the academy has experienced since opening its doors.
“We’ve helped thousands of kids so far. In fact, we have many players who have moved on to careers in the major leagues, in Japan and elsewhere come by to share their stories,” said Takaragawa. “It’s been pretty rewarding. Some players who we helped become major leaguers include Anthony Gose [Toronto Blue Jays], Aaron Hicks [Minnesota Twins] and Jonathan Singleton [Houston Astros]. This is why I love seeing the kids get excited about doing something new and watching their self-esteem grow.”
To enroll in the “Theory of Coaching Baseball and Softball” course, students must have some formal baseball or softball experience and an interest in coaching. The course is broken down into two sections, classroom lecture and coaching.
At the Compton schools each Friday, CSUDH students teach children the basic fundamentals of the game, such as hitting, throwing and catching, and life lessons such as teamwork, self-esteem and the value of exercise.
In class, the course includes oral and multimedia presentations, demonstrations, written assignments, examinations, and guest speakers. Students discuss general and discipline-specific diversity issues, learn to apply philosophical rational to professional practice, and skills learned in individual, and small group settings. Instruction also focuses on teaching behavioral management strategies, and ethics and integrity as it relates to the coaching profession and life.
“We’re out here for some good community relations, to give these kids good exposure to baseball, and for our college students to set an example. These kids learn that by getting involved in sports and by getting good grades that they, too, will be able to get into college, and I think that is a message a lot of these kids never get,” says CSUDH Assistant Baseball Coach Bill Erickson. “It’s also great to see our players get enthusiastic about this program. They’re anxious to get out there and interact with the kids, and since a lot of them want to get into coaching this is a really good place to start.”
One of the most exciting aspects of the course for CSUDH students is learning the advanced mechanics of baseball and softball from retired MLB major and minor league players, as well as CSUDH baseball and softball coaches.
MLB academy Manager Don Buford, who played for the Chicago White Sox and the Baltimore Orioles, will occasionally join the CSUDH students and work with the children.
“One of the important lessons, one that will be everlasting [for the CSUDH students], is learning more about themselves in relation to teaching others. This will be very satisfying and rewarding as they will actually be teaching themselves the skills needed to be successful,” explained Buford. “They’ll also find different ways to communicate to others the skills needed to be successful in the sport. This will come through their suggestions and by demonstrating for the kids from their own experiences and those learned from others.”
Dale Campbell, who was a Triple-A baseball player for the California Angels before a leg injury ended his career in 1971, grew up in Compton and taught and coached in the Compton Unified School District for 31 years. When working with children, he always emphasizes the importance of education.
“Baseball camp provides these kids a very positive example of how to create a healthy lifestyle,” said Campbell. “I always tell the kids, ‘Make sure you get a good education, that’s the most important thing, even if you continue playing after college because it doesn’t matter how good you are, you’re still going to get older. So you need to have something else to do in the later years, or if your career ends suddenly.’”
Brandon Polizzi, a freshman from Bellflower majoring in business management, is open to playing any position on CSUDH’s baseball team–particularly middle-infield or outfield. He is also grateful for the coaching and tips from those who have played the game professionally, and hopes working with the children will help some of them find a “good path” as they get older.
“It’s really an honor to do this and give back to these kids,” he said. “As they get older, those who don’t get involved in sports have a better chance of turning to negative sources or ways to spend their time. Baseball, softball–basically any sport–really can be a way to stay away from that. That’s why this is so important for me.”