K-Town players visit Italy for baseball action
April 18, 2008
LIVORNO, Italy - Much like Major League Baseball players, a dozen youth from the Kaiserslautern Military Community in Germany recently went south to prepare for their upcoming season.
However, instead of Florida or Arizona - where MLB springs camps are held - the youngsters from KMC traveled to Italy.
With unseasonable snow and cold temperatures this year, Germany was not an ideal place to be practicing baseball during spring break. Therefore, coach Gary Harrington of the Kaiserslautern Ambassador Baseball team took 12 players to Camp Darby for training, which included playing against an Italian national squad and receiving tips from MLB instructors.
"I was talking with Brian Kolscheen (a scouting director with the Philadelphia Phillies) and he told me about the MLB academy in Tirrenia, Italy," said Harrington. "Once I realized it was only five minutes away from Camp Darby, I knew this would be a great chance for the youth to get some serious baseball practice."
Harrington noted it's generally too expensive for parents to send their kids back to the States for a sports training camp, which made the Italian trip even more appealing, along with receiving personal instruction from Bill Holmberg, international scout for the Chicago Cubs and pitching coach for the Italian national team.
"It was cool for me," said Andre Porterfield, a 15-year-old shortstop. "It was one of the few times I've ever been scouted, and I didn't think I would be doing that until I was 17 or 18. But I'm glad to get the exposure early."
Jacob Janeczko, 15, who pitches as well as playing shortstop, added that he also believed it would be a lot later in life before he crossed paths with a professional scout.
"I thought some day there would be a college scout - I'm hoping from the University of North Carolina - but I never thought a pro team," said Janeczko.
As for the instruction he received, Janeczko said: "Mr. Holmberg helped me a lot with my pitching ... he taught me how to stay cool under pressure and play the best I can no mater what is going on during the game."
Harrington added that the youth, ranging from 9 to 15-years-old, practiced and played six hours daily during their stay.
"We got more playing (here) in one day then we have in a month (in Germany)," he said, "and we had five of those days."
Including in that playing time - taking on the Italian Junior National Team.
Porterfield said he initially was "scared because I was the first pitcher," in the game, adding that he settled down, "I learned how to keep my composure through the whole game even when I made mistakes."
The teams played nine innings - with the pitchers throwing to their own teammates due to the Italians greater skill level and experience.
"These guys were throwing 85-90 miles an hour fast balls," said Harrington, referring to the Italian pitchers "We did have some of our more advanced KMC players bat against them; I think the youth will never forget that."
Janeczko said he was excited and tentative before the game, but enjoyed the tougher competition
"The guy I was hitting against plays on the Houston Astros Single A team, so that was intimidating," Janeczko said laughing. "But when I got a hit off him, it felt good and was a bit unexpected."
Lt. Col. Steven Cade, commander of U.S. Army Garrison Livorno, said he was glad the visiting players experienced great weather while visiting Camp Darby.
"I like to think of Camp Darby as Europe's southern destination of choice," said Cade. "We have great sports facilities, multiple options for lodging, the Leaning Tower of Pisa, the only American beach in Europe and a community full of friendly folks."