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For the Love of the Game: Nighthawks Tackle Teaching Roles

  • Upper Valley Nighthawks player Mike Coss pitches to Wyatt Parker,7, of Vershire, Vt., with Nighthawks player Ryan Jeffers catching during the Nighthawks baseball camp on June 26, 2017 in Hartford, Vt. (Valley News - Jennifer Hauck) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

  • With a count down ticking away Christian Hathorn, 11, of Hartford, Vt. rushes to get out of the batting cage after campers gathered baseballs for Upper Valley Nighthawks player Will Carnley at the Nighthawks baseball camp on June 26, 2017 in Hartford. Campers were in the batting cage working on their hitting. (Valley News - Jennifer Hauck) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

  • Upper Valley Nighthawks player Ryan Jeffers gathers campers together to play a base running game at the Nighthawks Baseball Camp on June 26. 2017 in Hartford, Vt. (Valley News - Jennifer Hauck) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

  • Oliver Sarazin,8, of Vershire, Vt., left, Wes Berndsen, 5,of Lebanon, N.H. and Jacob Vahey, of Quechee watch their team at bat during the Upper Valley Nighthawks baseball camp in Hartford, Vt., on June 26, 2017. (Valley News - Jennifer Hauck) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.



Valley News Staff Writer
Tuesday, June 27, 2017

White River Junction — Upper Valley Nighthawks catcher James McConnon remembers being as young and energetic as the kids he worked with on Monday.

Baseball back then was an excuse for him to get out of the house and have fun on a sunny summer morning — a far cry from the grueling, competitive grind of NCAA Division I athletics, McConnon’s current reality.

Monday’s Upper Valley Nighthawks Baseball Camp, first day of a three-day summer training camp featuring a mix of instructional drills, games and scrimmages for athletes 12 and under at the Maxfield Sports Complex, brought McConnon back to his baseball roots.

Upper Valley players and coaches lead the camps, which will be held again twice in July. Camps for youth athletes are a common routine for summer collegiate baseball players but a rewarding experience for everyone involved.

“It’s great just to come out and interact with the younger guys,” said McConnon, a sophomore at St. Joseph’s University. “Especially from not being around here, meeting all the kids was pretty cool.”

McConnon, though, admitted he remembered his days at summer baseball camps differently.

“I don’t remember them being this fun,” he said. “Mine were pretty strict.”

The Nighthawks’ McConnon, Mike Coss, Ryan Jeffers, Ashton Raines, Blake Deatherage and Will Carnley along with Upper Valley head coach Jason Szafarski ran drills, gave instruction and provided guidance to 40 athletes split up into three groups by age level. Older kids took to the batting cages and caught fly balls on the grass. The younger group scrimmaged on Maxfield’s softball field, then played a baserunning game with Coss, Jeffers and McConnon.

“It’s something that’s always inspired me, to get kids to love the game as much as I do,” said Carnley, a sophomore reliever from Troy University. “You’ve got to teach them to love the game at an early age, pass on some tips that you know to try and help the next guy out.”

Even for athletes and parents who had registered for Upper Valley’s camps last year, the experience was still surreal.

After all, it’s not every day a youth baseball player can mingle with a slew of D-I college athletes.

“I came out here to meet the guys. It’s fun; I did it last year (too),” said 10-year-old Quechee resident and Nighthawks fan Frankie Cushing. “I like to hang out with the guys. It’s really cool.”

Sage Johnson, a 10-year-old from Hanover, impressed North Carolina-Wilmington’s Deatherage with her no-nonsense attitude.

“It’s fun to be out here playing and active,” Johnson said as her group took turns hitting in Maxfield’s batting cages. “Otherwise, I’d just be sitting at home.”

Shannon Sarazin and Seth Parker, both of West Fairlee, stuck around for the three-hour practice to watch their sons Oliver, 9, and Wyatt, 7.

“We didn’t have this opportunity when we were younger,” Parker said. “We’ve been playing baseball together from kindergarten on, basically. We never had anything like this.”

Many teams in the New England Collegiate Baseball League hold camps during the summer season, as do many college baseball programs, such as the ones at Dartmouth College and Saint Michael’s College. For Nighthawks general manager Noah Crane, summer baseball camps are an easy way to grow interest in baseball and mix the Nighthawks with their younger fans.

“It’s a way for kids to continue to get better and spend some time with our coaches and players,” Crane said. “What we really want is for kids to continue to come out and play baseball, to show that’s it’s fun.

“We’ve got a great group that loves the game. They’re a bunch of characters,” he added. “It’s great to have our guys engage with the fan base.”

Coss, Upper Valley’s pitcher from Marist College, was involved with last year’s summer camp program.

“They have fun, that’s the best part,” Coss said. “As long as they’re running around, they’re laughing and enjoying the games. You could probably teach a little more to the older kids. The younger ones, they just want to have fun.”

Have fun, learn from elite-caliber athletes and get to know a few Nighthawks in the process. What’s not to like?

“It’s great to have them here,” said Shane Vahey, of Quechee, whose 6-year-old son, Jacob, took part in Monday’s camp. “We come to a lot of their games. We live right up the road.

“I think it’ll be cooler now when we come to the games, because now we know some of the players.”

Josh Weinreb can be reached at jweinreb@vnews.com or 603-727-3306.