By Jim Hague
If you needed proof that the sport of baseball is alive and well in Kearny, then all you had to do was pay a visit to Franklin School Field last week.
Thatís because the Kards Kamp was taking place at Franklin, with approximately 70 young and aspiring baseball players learning about the sport from some noteworthy teachers and having an overall good time at the same time.
Under the guidance of Kearny High School head baseball coach Frank Bifulco, the youngsters were introduced to many of the basic fundamentals of baseball _ hitting, fielding, pitching _ while also having fun in the summer sun.
ìIt means a lot to have such a great turnout,î Bifulco said. ìThere hasnít been that much involvement in baseball in Kearny in quite some time. To get this kind of involvement, get 70 or so kids to come to a camp is amazing. I canít be happier.î
Bifulco said that he was impressed with the talent level in the camp.
ìThere are a lot of good players out here,î Bifulco said. ìAnd about 65 of these kids are from Kearny. Itís a Kearny program for Kearny kids, run by Kearny people. The coaches all breed that Kearny spirit. Itís great.î
Bifulco said that he was amazed at the campersí improvement over the course of the week.
ìThey showed tremendous strides,î Bifulco said. ìWe had
a tremendous group of 7-and-8-year-olds. Thatís a key group to focus on, because they are the ones who develop the most. Itís what you want. You want to get them interested, have them learn and keep moving on up. Itís the ladder effect.î
Bifulco said that he enjoyed the interaction he had with the youngsters.
ìDuring our season, itís hard for me to get to see them play,î Bifulco said. ìSo to see these young kids playing and enjoying the game is a big thrill. You canít beat it. Thatís the greatest thrill for me, working with the young kids. And it was great to see them all meshed and blended well together. It really worked well.î
Bifulco also liked the eagerness and the positive attitude of the kids.
ìThey were here early every day, even before me,î Bifulco said. ìThey were always asking to do more. They really want to learn and we made the learning process challenging for them. Everything they did was a challenge.î
One of the guest instructors was Kearny product Jeff Gogal, the former Florida Marlinsí organizational left-hander now pitching for the New Jersey Jackals.
ìIn the off-season, I give lessons to kids (in his winter home of Swatters Foley, Alabama),î Gogal said. ìSo I love working with kids. Itís great to see this kind of turnout. I remember going to camps when I was little and soaking up the things I learned. A good high school program starts with the youth, so having something like this will only help Kearny High later on.î
Gogalís father, Doug, is an assistant coach at Kearny High with Bifulco and was also an instructor at the Kamp.
ìBeing on the same field with my father is a great thrill,î Jeff Gogal said. ìI donít get many chances to do that now. We talk baseball every single day.î
The Kards Kamp also brought former long-time Kearny head coach Jim Sickinger out of retirement to work with the youngsters.
Many of the counselors at the camp were current members of the Kearny program.
The campers were definitely excited to be there.
ìI want to get better, because I love playing baseball,î said 12-year-old Travis Witt, the catcher on the Kearny Little League All-Star game. ìThe coaches are teaching me a lot and itís a big help. Baseball is my favorite sport and I want to be ready when I get to Kearny High School.î
Gabriel Mostafa is a 12-year-old aspiring pitcher/infielder.
ìThe coaches break things down and make it easier for us to learn,î Mostafa said. ìIt encourages me to want to play more baseball. These coaches are the high school coaches and I hope they can recognize us when we get to that level.î
The Kards Kamp wasnít just for boys. Two girls participated in the camp as well.
ìIt was actually a lot of fun,î said 7-year-old Samantha Bell. ìI learned a lot of new stuff. At first, I was a little scared, being with all the boys, but then I got over it. I learned a lot about pitching. This is my third year of playing baseball and I love it. Itís a lot of fun.î
Ten-year-old Lianna Pinto also participated in the camp.
ìI do play softball, but I wanted to learn baseball,î Pinto said. ìI was a little worried being with the boys, but I felt very comfortable after the first day or so. I learned a lot about pitching, about keeping my balance. I think I proved a little that girls could play baseball as well.î
Eight-year-old Angel Elliott was a very eager camper.
ìI learned about the importance of throwing strikes,î Elliott said. ìI like baseball even more now than before. It made me want to play more. I wish we could keep going to camp. It was a lot of fun.î
Seven-year-old Trayton Witt also had a blast.
ìIím a second baseman, but I learned I can pitch, too,î Witt said. ìAnd Iím a good pitcher.î
Bifulco promised that the learning process is just beginning for Kearnyís youngsters.
ìI plan on having winter camps and clinics,î Bifulco said. ìIt all builds up, but this was a good starting point. I was anticipating 40 or so, but to have 70 kids is tremendous. Itís all very good, all very positive.î
But Bifulco had other business to attend to. Soon after the Kamp was completed, he flew off to Punta Cana to marry his fiancÈe, Kaitlyn Liotti, who also worked at the Kamp.
Sometimes, baseball doesnít always take precedence.