When Eric Wedge was a kid, if he wanted to work on his baseball fundamentals on a cold, slippery January day, he'd have to get creative.
“You'd take what you can get to get better,” he said as the 15th annual Eric Wedge Baseball Camps, hosted by the World Baseball Academy, wrapped up at the ASH Centre on Saturday.
Wedge, who went from Northrop to MLB player and manager of the Cleveland Indians and Seattle Mariners, remembered driving to Auburn just to get some hitting in on a day like Saturday.
“When I was a kid, there were no indoor facilities,” Wedge said. “We'd have to go out to ... outdoor batting cages and my dad would bring a roll of quarters. Now remember, these are outdoor cages, not indoor, like in January or February, and I'd be hitting with it freezing and my coat on.”
So appreciate what Saturday was about: great facilities, teaching from Wedge and other capable people such as Caleb Kimmel, Andy McManama and Ken Jones, and positive messages for over 250 boys and girls, kindergarten to eighth grade.
Fort Wayne has been blessed recently by locals coming back to lead clinics. Those names include former NFL player Jason Baker, Dallas Cowboys Jaylon and Rod Smith, and soccer star DaMarcus Beasley, to name a few.
Wedge's enthusiasm for his camp is obvious. It started with less than 100 kids. Now, he has to keep the numbers down to make sure all the kids get the appropriate amount of attention.
“It's not just about baseball,” said Wedge, 51, who, as field coordinator for the Toronto Blue Jays, works with their minor league players and staff. “It's a life message ... about being the best person you can be and being a positive contributor. We've now had 5,000-plus people come through this thing for 15 years, and I feel like we've made a positive impact.”
The kids may not know just how fortunate they are, having indoor facilities, the internet to search videos on baseball mechanics and options for winter camps. A big part of Wedge's offseason work at their age included – believe it or not – reading.
“It was books. I remember, if it was a Johnny Bench catching book or a Ted Williams hitting book, whatever it may be, that's all we had. And then the VHS came along and you'd start seeing a couple very general videos in the '80s. But in the '70s, it was books,” Wedge said. “That was just the way it was. It wasn't like today, where everything is at your fingertips. ... There are no excuses today.”
Maybe Wedge's best advice, at least having nothing to do with the mechanics, was being open-minded about sports until high school when one is old enough to decide to specialize. Hopefully the parents take note.
“When you're a young person, I think you should play the sport the season it's in,” Wedge said. “I think it helps your overall development, not just physically and fundamentally, but mentally as well. There are certain things you learn from football or basketball that you won't learn from baseball or track or hockey.”
Justin A. Cohn, senior writer for The Journal Gazette, has covered Fort Wayne sports since 1997. He can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or phone at 260-461-8429. You can also follow him on Twitter@sportsicohn.