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Old ball game gaining some new, young fans

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Just a few days shy of its first birthday, the Sunshine Ballpark welcomed area children for a free baseball clinic.

The camp, sponsored by the Fredericksburg Area Youth Development and Cal Ripken Sr. foundations, brought together children for a day of baseball and life lessons.

With four stations the children, ages 6 to 14, learned the basic skills of the game. Organizers hoped to spark interest in outdoor activities—and baseball—with a game of Quickball to finish the day. It’s a fast-paced version of baseball using whiffle-ball bats and special rubber balls.

“We are looking to revive the interest of kids in healthy activities,” said Carmen Baeza, director of community and program development for the Ripken Foundation.

Scheduled on the heels of Tuesday’s National Night Out, Baeza said it was an extension of the crime-prevention event.

Though a rainstorm early Wednesday may have kept some kids at home, Bill Lynch, chairman of the Fredericksburg Area Youth Development Foundation, said 83 out of 110 registered youths attended.

The loss of attendees did not phase Lynch, who said it’s a positive to have any number of children willing to learn.

“The whole function of this clinic,” he said, “is to provide a safe haven for children who might do less positive things otherwise.”

J.T. Leitch, 8, enjoyed being able to catch and throw in stations. Hugging an arm around one of his friends at a picnic table, he said the clinic was “a lot of fun.”

Program coordinator Travis Punt from the Baltimore-based Ripken Foundation said the clinic was very engaging. He also said the smaller numbers allowed for more manageable groups, giving youths a greater opportunity to learn the skills.

Coaches were primarily Ripken Foundation staff members, though three University of Mary Washington baseball players taught in addition to players from area high schools.

UMW baseball coach Wayne Riser, who kept watch over a few stations, said his team’s participation was part of a larger plan to take a greater community role.

“We always want to get involved in the community and spread our goodwill through baseball,” Riser said. “The big thing is that everyone is having fun. Baseball is supposed to be fun.”

In addition to three of his players, Riser brought along the “whole Riser clan,” including sons Mason, 15, and Jackson, 5.

Deputies Alex Smith and Bo Truslow of the Stafford County Sheriff’s Office brought along K–9 dogs Vader and Xander for a safety presentation. Virginia’s Secretary of Public Safety Marla Decker also made an appearance.

The Sunshine Ballpark, which opened on Aug. 10, 2012, is a synthetically turfed ballpark off Fall Hill Avenue. The Ripken Foundation and Doris Buffet’s Sunshine Lady Foundation funded its construction as part of a national initiative to build more safe havens for athletic activities in targeted areas.

From his seat on a bench facing the field, 9-year-old Conor Gray summed up his reason for attending the clinic: “Because I love baseball.”

Dawnthea Price: 540/374-5444


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