Baseball teams from KMC train in Italy

For 22 dedicated youth from Ramstein, Kaiserslautern and Vogelweh, spring break was a chance to go south of the Alps to Camp Darby, Italy, for a special week of baseball training at the Italian Baseball and Softball Federation in nearby Tirrenia. It was also a chance for the military dependents to test their skills against the Italian and German Bavarian Junior National team while being looked at by members of Major League Baseball.

Bill Holmberg, the Chicago Cubs’ international scout and director of the MLB Baseball Facility, and a scout from the Minnesota Twins were on hand to scout out talent during the games. This type of exposure is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for these kids, said U.S.A. team organizer and coach Gary Harrington.

There were also two coaches from the Cuban National team. Pedro Jove, winner of six world and Olympic championships, helped with batting and Enrique “Kiki” Rodriquez, the third base coach for the Cuban National team and winner of two gold and one silver Olympic medal, helped with fielding and catchers.

Also invited to participate in this year’s spring training were youths from Royal Air Force  Lakenheath, England, and Stuttgart, Germany, bringing the total to 33 players from various military locations in Europe. The group was hosted by Camp Darby for the second year. Camp Darby is probably best known as a recreation destination.

Located close to Pisa, the installation’s beach, campground and guesthouse attract U.S. and NATO Soldiers, family members and DA civilians from across Europe.
Mr. Holmberg set up a three team tournament between his Italian Junior National team, a Bayern, Germany, state team and Team USA, which consisted of the 33 youths ranging from 10 to 18 years of age.

The USA team used a split squad for most of the games; in game four against Italy they went with their starters for the entire game and came away with a 9-5 win.
“I thought after the first two games that our players were pretty competitive and decided to see how good my starting 12 could compete against Italy’s Junior National Team,” Mr. Harrington said. “They didn’t surprise me when they went out and beat the Italians who were 2 to 3 years older than them.”

Matthew McDonald, a short stop and pitcher for the Ramstein Royals, said he was happy for the chance to get scouted and be competitive against 20-year-olds.
“At first I was nervous pitching against the Italian national team, but then it began to feel like a regular team,” Mr. McDonald said. “I love playing baseball and have been playing on teams since I was 5. Last year, the guys talked about (how) great it was to play here; I knew I had to come.”

Cavan Cohoes, short stop for the RAF Lakenheath Lancers, said getting the special coaching and extra practice has been really helpful and playing games against better competition will definitely help during the season.

Mr. Cohoes’s parents, Chris and Darbie, came along to help during the spring break camp and were glad their son got a chance to be seen by professional scouts.
“In Europe, youth that want to play at collegiate level and get recruited are at a huge disadvantage,” Mr. Harrington said. “I know there is nothing else our kids would rather do then play baseball and get scouted by members of MLB.”

In addition to all the games, the boys also received special training from the two Cuban coaches.

With such a quality MLB facility, the boys were able to get in hundreds of swings in one of the three batting cages along with Mr. Holmberg, who also worked with the pitchers, complimenting on the level of talent around the military installations in Europe.

 “I’m especially glad for the help from all the parents and Ramstein Youth Services who helped make this dream a reality,” Mr. Harrington said. “Next year, it’s my goal to see if MLB will partner up with DODDS or our youth programs around Europe, and we can go from a three team to a six to 18 team youth baseball tournament (during) spring break 2010.”

(Courtesy of 435th Services Marketing Department)