A couple years, or more, away from putting on the Newtown High School baseball uniform, up-and-coming sluggers and pitchers are getting tips from Newtown High Baseball Coach Matt Memoli, other members of the NHS coaching staff, and some of their players and former team members at clinics this summer.
Memoli runs the Summer Baseball Academy for athletes ages 5–11 and the Middle School Academy for those on the cusp of getting involved in high school ball.
During a couple of weeks in late June and early July the players participate in drills and fun-filled games on the Newtown High field. They learn everything from stretching routines, base running, and fielding to positioning, batting stances, and pitching techniques. The youngest participants hit off batting tees and play games with a softer ball. The older players do more complex drills, such as turning double plays. The pre- and young teens catch throws while running to touch second base and, in turn, pivot and make long relay throws over to first base.
Memoli notes that there aren’t many organized camps or clinics for the middle school age players and that they are adjusting to playing ball on larger fields. At age 13, baseball players move up from fields with 60-foot base paths to 90-foot base paths and 45-foot pitching mound-to-home plate distances to 60-foot distances. “So to get them used to playing on a bigger field and getting used to tweaking their mechanics a little bit is definitely something that I enjoy seeing,” Memoli said.
“This is a great way [to learn] the small things, like backing up bases and leads, and stealing bases, base running — those little things. It’s nice to be able to teach that at this age,” Memoli adds.
“A lot of these kids come in with a great deal of knowledge so we’re reinforcing that knowledge,” Joe Crimi, junior varsity coach at NHS, and one of the camp instructors.
The baseball academies benefit not only the rising stars on the diamonds, but also the baseball coaches. “It’s a good way for us to look at the kids — who we have coming up. There’s a lot of potential,” Crimi said. “It helps us to see who plays where.”
There’s also a win-win scenario in place for the campers and youngest of the instructors.
“I think it really does work both ways. The younger guys — to get to work with kids who are in high school, playing at the varsity level, or in college levels is so beneficial because that’s — hopefully — who they want to become in the next two to three years,” said Memoli, adding that recent and current Newtown High players who help out get a chance to learn to direct younger players and develop their public speaking skills. “And they enjoy it,” he said.
“It’s just awesome giving them some knowledge about baseball,” said Dean Demers, who just completed his senior year season with the Nighthawks. Demers added that he has two younger brothers, which helped prepare him to assist at the clinics. “I’m always outside playing with them, trying to make them better,” he said.