Amid the snap, crack and whap of bats hitting balls at the ASH Centre, a smile was firmly affixed to Eric Wedge’s face.
"It’s all about vibe and energy, and we’ve got a lot of that going on," said Wedge, the former manager of the Cleveland Indians and Seattle Mariners, whose annual baseball camp hosted by World Baseball Academy took place Saturday.
Just over 200 kids participated – the 13th running of the Eric Wedge Baseball Camp had to be pared down this year because of the ASH Centre’s ongoing renovations – and they got to spend time with a Wedge, IPFW and Saint Francis players and several area coaches.
"Fort Wayne did so much for me – both on and off the field – and that’s what we’re trying to do here," Wedge said, "not just make an impact on the field but use baseball as a tool to help make a difference for them off the field too."
Wedge, 49, a member of Northrop’s 1983 state championship team, played 39 major league games with the Boston Red Sox and Colorado Rockies as a catcher. He managed the Indians from 2003 to 2009, winning American League Manager of the Year in 2007, and he led the Mariners from 2011 to 2013.
After serving in an advisory role last season, he’s now the field coordinator for the Toronto Blue Jays, putting him in charge of minor leaguers from Buffalo, New York, where he lives, all the way to the Dominican Republic.
The messages he conveys to Blue Jays prospects are, essentially, the same things he told the kids Saturday – especially as it pertains to the fundamentals.
"Sometimes you can be talking to a 7- or 8-year-old and the message will be the same as the one you’ll give a 21- or 25-year-old," Wedge said. "Really, if you’re going to be simplistic about it, then you’ve got to be honest about what you’re trying to get across. Whether it be listening skills, or work ethic, or just focus and concentration, those are things that should never go away."
Wedge wanted the kids to leave having learned particular skills and ways to keep practicing them.
"I’m all about practice, but it’s practicing the right way," Wedge said. "A lot of people think practice makes perfect, but if you’re practicing the wrong way then it doesn’t make you perfect, it’ll make you worse. So you’re either getting better or worse, and we need to make sure that we slow it down and practice what we’re doing the right way."
Fundamentals are too important to skimp on any one, so Wedge makes sure his camps don’t oversaturate players with information.
"It’s a sport where if you fail seven out of 10 times as a hitter, you’re a good hitter. So you have to handle it mentally. But fundamentally, it’s a multiskilled sport, too. So you really have to hone down on it," Wedge said. "And it’s a sport of repetition. All sports are sports of repetition, but baseball more so probably than any other sport because you have to master your craft in so many different areas of the game. And I just try to simplify it. I’m a big believer in simplifying things. Let’s do simple great."
Wedge said the excitement over baseball in the area is palpable – especially with the Chicago Cubs winning the World Series over the Indians, who had eliminated his Blue Jays – and he hopes that continues to stir interest in his camp.
"You can feel the excitement in baseball here," he said. "And that’s what it does; sports can change the mindset of individuals from the time they get up in the morning to the time they go to bed at night."