By Jim Hague
Observer Sports Writer
Kailyn DaSilva may be only eight years old, but she knows what she likes to do.
“I love playing baseball,” said DaSilva, a student at Kearny’s Franklin School. “I play third base. I want to play more baseball.”
DaSilva didn’t mind being one of the lone girls to attend the Kearny Baseball Camp, held last week at the Franklin School Field.
More than 60 youngsters, from ages 6 through 14, participated in the week-long camp, organized by Kearny High School head baseball coach Frank Bifulco.
“This is the second camp and the biggest thing with that is that the kids are coming back,” Bifulco said. “They ask questions about what we did last year and that’s encouraging. Every kid has a chance to be a part of something we’re building here.”
There was talk that the sport of baseball was dying in a soccer-happy town like Kearny. But this camp – as well as the successes of some of the Kearny teams in local youth tournaments –serves as proof that the sport is flourishing.
“It’s encouraging that they all want to play baseball,” said Bifulco, who just completed his second year as the Kearny head coach. “You have so many different talent levels here. We tried to make it fun. We want the kids to learn and want them to get better. They want to get better. But it has to be fun for them to learn.”
One of the ways Bifulco made the camp fun was when he introduced a “slip and slide” water contraption to teach the youngsters how to slide properly into a base.
“They need the skills to slide the right way, but this way, we made it fun,” Bifulco said.
Eight-year-old Eli Jablonski, who played for the Kearny 8s in the recent Lyndhurst tournament, is a first baseman/ pitcher. He said that he learned to hustle, much like his favorite players on the Boston Red Sox, like David Ortiz and Dustin Pedroia.
“I’m going to use what I learned here on a daily basis,” Jablonski said.
Travis Witt, a 12-year-old Garfield School student, is a shortstop and pitcher who played for the Kearny Little League 12-year-old All-Stars in the recent District 5 tournament, where they went to the finals.
“I learned how to hustle, how to field,” Witt said. “It’s definitely going to help with my batting. It encourages me to want to play more baseball.”
Ten-year-old Brendan Solano is a Roosevelt School student who likes the Mets and likes David Wright and Matt Harvey. A left fielder and third baseman, Solano said that he learned about hitting during the camp.
“I learned about squaring up the right way and taking a level swing,” Solano said. “It was really a lot of fun.”
Chris Serrano is a 10-yearold student of Schuyler School.
“I was excited to come, because baseball is my favorite sport,” Serrano said. “I’m a shortstop and a pitcher, so what I learned here at camp is really going to help me. And I’m definitely going to hustle more.”
Ryan Tully, a recent graduate of Lincoln School, will now head to Kearny High School in the fall. It was important for Tully to make a good impression on his future coach Bifulco.
Tully, one of the rising stars in town, worked on his pitching mechanics in the camp.
“I was fooling around with the grip on my two-seam fastball,” said Tully, who received instruction from former Kearny High head coach Jim Sickinger. “I throw it like my normal fastball, but it moves a little bit more now. It really helped me a lot. I also worked on my off-speed stuff. I’m willing to play anywhere. I just love playing.”
The same can be said for 13-year-old Ryan Watson, who was a pitcher/infielder by trade, but learned new positions at the camp.
“I never played the outfield before, so this really helped me develop some outfielder skills,” Watson said. “This camp will go a long way in my development. It’s a lot of fun and without fun, baseball would be just a game.”
Bifulco provided each camper with an in-depth evaluation.
“They get to work on things on their own,” Bifulco said. “The key is to teach the kids the right way. We had a great staff of instructors and counselors here. The kids are learning things every day.”
Bifulco really liked the future of the sport.
“The 10, 11 and 12-year-olds are really impressive and they could be dangerous by the time they get to high school,” Bifulco said. “They’re all playing together in Little League and on travel teams. About 30 of the kids here are from that age group. If they stay interested in baseball and we can bring them in when they get to high school, that would be incredible.”
Bifulco said that he enjoys working with the youngsters.
“I love it,” Bifulco said. “As a coach, you get to teach these kids fundamentals and there’s no pressure about winning and losing. They get a lot in the week, fielding, pitching, hitting. We could do a camp just on hitting alone. We want to create an atmosphere where the kids want to play baseball and they’re passionate about it. That’s the pleasure of doing this.”