By Heather Clark, Fort Campbell CourierJune 12, 2015
FORT CAMPBELL, Ky. -- "A ballplayer spends a good piece of his life gripping a baseball, and in the end it turns out that it was the other way around all the time." -- Jim Bouton
Fort Campbell's South Sports Complex was the place to be Monday for any child who wanted to try a hand at baseball. For the duration of a two-hour training camp, the sun-drenched ball fields were resplendent with cheers and the cracking of bats -- children of American heroes playing America's pastime.
The children were there to talk shop and learn fundamentals from the Hoptown Hoppers, of the Ohio Valley Summer Collegiate Baseball League. The youth workshops were part of a full day of activities for the team -- a day that was scheduled to culminate with a military appreciation game against the Madisonville Miners at Fort Campbell High School. Sadly, Mother Nature had other plans, and the game was postponed because of evening thunderstorms.
Although there was no game, the Hoppers did get the opportunity to get a firsthand look at an Army installation, something many team members had never before experienced. In between trips to the famous Sabalauski Air Assault School and lunch with Soldiers at one of Fort Campbell's many dining facilities, they were able pass on their skills to the next generation of baseball stars.
"We appreciate the Hoppers coming out and doing this for us," said Paige Commander, instructional program specialist for SKIESUnlimited. "It's fantastic for them to take their time to be out here in this heat today with our kids. It's evident in the smiles on the kids' faces that they're really enjoying it."
Under the tutelage of Hoppers players and coaches, the children alternated between three fields to learn the art of fielding, throwing and batting.
Twelve-year-old Ethan Tomerlin hopes the knowledge he gleaned from the Hoppers will earn him a spot on the Fort Campbell High School baseball team next season.
"I learned a lot of new things that can help me play baseball better," he said. "I learned different ways to bat to make the ball go farther, and I worked on making my throw better."
Most notably, Tomerlin said he just enjoyed the experience overall.
"This was really fun," he said.
"That's what it's all about -- having a good time," said Commander.
The energy and enthusiasm of the young players made a good impression on the visiting team.
Trey Porras, one of the coaches for the Hoppers, said that one of the first things that jumped out at him and the rest of the team was the respect and attention displayed by each of the young participants.
"At their age, I was anticipating shorter attention spans," he said. "But they snapped to it. It's a testament to how they're brought up. They're a blast to work with."
As for the installation itself, Porras said the visit made an impression of its own.
"All of the guys are commenting, 'Wow, I can't believe it's this big. It's its own town,'" he said. "I'm impressed with how large it is, and the rich history that's here. This is my first time to be behind the scenes and see all the tanks and equipment. It's pretty neat."
For most of the players, the lunch meeting with the Soldiers was one of the most anticipated parts of the visit.
"It's like with baseball -- we've got guys that come from all over the country to Hopkinsville to play for the summer," said Porras. "The military is the same way. People from all over the country come here, people with diverse backgrounds. So it'll be a lot of fun to hear some of their stories and get to know them a little bit."
While the game had to be postponed, Porras hopes that the youth workshops displayed at least some of the appreciation the Hoppers have for the Fort Campbell community.
"When you compare what we do on a daily basis to the military, there isn't any comparison," he said. "If we can help out by having the kids out here and having them enjoy their morning through the camps, I feel like we did a small thing to help out."
Through these gestures, the team hopes that a strong relationship can be formed.
"Hopkinsville is close to Fort Campbell, and we play a lot of home games," said Porras. "Hopefully people will make the short drive to Hopkinsville sometime and see what we've got going on there, and enjoy a good collegiate baseball game."