A BLE Blast From the Past
by Gary Montague, Kelowna Daily Courier, Wednesday, August 16, 1978
Now in its 19th year of operation, the Okanagan Major League Baseball Camp for boys 14 to 19 years of age has gained the reputation of being perhaps the finest in Canada, and one of the top-notch schools of its kind in North America. Al Buchanan of Kelowna, vice-president of the British Columbia Minor Softball Association, visited the camp last week at its location in Oliver and says, “It is definitely the finest baseball camp of its kind in Canada that I have ever seen. It is a fine, fine school.” Instructor Ed Tanner of Edmonton, whose career with the Vancouver Mounties ended with a car accident in 1958, and who is a minor league manager and youth baseball instructor in that city, says the camp, “is the only one in North America that goes 24 hours a day.” Each instructor puts in at least six hours a day. Three daily sessions are set aside for each player to receive specialized instruction on the individual parts of his game in attempts to make the small improvements successful in higher levels of play.
Instructors also hold specialty sessions for all players covering the finer points of bunting, sliding on base, specialty hitting, etc. The sessions are designed to go beyond normal fundamental instruction. There are five, week-long sessions from July 16 to August 19 each summer and counselor-coaches are assigned to each session at a ratio of one to twelve players. The counselors are with the boys 24 hours a day, live at the camp and coach during inter-camp team competitions.
The counselors are in addition to the instructing staff which make up a combined roster of over 20. Each member of the staff has either, or both, played professional baseball in the major or minor leagues, or is involved with counseling or physical education instruction at high schools and universities in Canada and the U.S. The staff donates two weeks of their holidays to the camp each summer.
Staff members hail from such organizations as the Pittsburg Pirates, Philadelphia Phillies, St. Louis Cardinals, the Red Sox, the White Sox, Cincinatti Reds, and the Bellingham Bells. The school has been handling on the average 48 boys a week. They bunk along with their counselor-coaches in the hockey rink at the Oliver arena. The arena floor is divided into five sections with each section representing a team. “Everything we do in camp is worth a run”, sys camp director Dale Parker, a high school counselor in Edmonds, Washington, and a former University of Washington and Seattle Pacific University baseball mentor.
The boys are up at 7:45 and busy eating breakfast by 8:00. After inspection of the sleeping quarters, flexibility exercises begin at 9:00 and run until individual instruction begins at 10 a.m. Then the work begins. The rest of the morning is taken up with drills. Using the four-diamond baseball field complex next to the arena the boys, divided into age and ability groups, go through training such as in flyball catching. One of the drills is called “Pepper”. The boys line up with their gloves and a batter connects for a series of short hits at close range.
There are also screen drills involving a power exercise in batting. Balls are tossed up at close range for the batter to drive them into a screen a few feet in front of him. In the afternoon the boys get a change of pace and go swimming at the on-location pool. But even there they can rack up runs for their team. Games such as water polo are played. Beginning at 1:30 in the afternoon the camp has a Super Star competition, where they go through throwing for accuracy and hitting for accuracy.
On Saturday there is even a baseball obstacle course and the boys are divided up into groups of four and five. “We are always suggesting pointers for the boys to take home with them,” says Parker. “The best thing is for them to have a team to go back to,” he says. Parker adds that from his experience at the canp for many years, he can almost guarantee that if a Grade 9 boy comes to the camp he will make his high school team in the fall. But curiously, says Parker, if the boy first attends camp and he is already in the tenth grade, it will more than likely be too late to h elp him for his school team. Video tape replays are part of each day’s instruction and each player gets the opportunity to analyze his own work. Parker says the boys are able to gain a different perspective about themselves and a different attitude toward instruction. “When he sees himself he says, “Yes, yes, that’s what you have been telling me all along”. The boy gets to see whether an elbow is not in the right place or a foot is out of position,” says Parker. Not only is there an outdoor machine that fires balls from the pitcher’s mound, inside recreation and practice revolves around a Wiffle Ball Machine. The floor of the hockey arena is laid out in a baseball diamond. The machine pops a plastic ball which is hit by a plastic bat and the boys play their games without equipment. Runs are scored not only for coming in at home, but for catching flies and stealing bases, etc.
Each day ends with a talk session called the Bullpen, where the instructors and counselors share experiences and philosophies they feel are valuable toward coaching, playing, mental attitudes, physical fitness, team play concepts and moral values.
Don Coy and Dale Parker were instrumental in the growth and development of the camp at Oliver. The camp, which Don Coy founded in 1960, was soon thereafter know as “one of the finest on the continent”. The focus of the camp was always Professional Instruction and players at the camp had the finest.