In the middle of it all was LHS head baseball coach Paul Hodges who was orchestrating his annual summer baseball camp — which has been operating for over 15 years, the longest-running baseball camp in Robeson County — for sluggers ranging from ages 6 to 17.
Hodges and a host of fellow coaches, including newly-hired St. Pauls coach Kelly Chavis and Terry Sanford coach Sam Guy, along with former Lumberton players, manned stations and ran drills for roughly 70 kids, the camp’s yearly average turnout.
“We introduce the game to some of them, but a lot of them are all-stars, play LYBA, coach pitch, all the way up through the high school guys,” said Lumberton High Athletic director Tripp Satterwhite, who has helped coach the camp since it started back when he played for LHS. “We just want them to come out and basically hone their skills and fundamentals.”
But teaching kids the basics of the game isn’t the only goal for Coach Hodges and his camp staff. The underlining aim is to implement the vital details of baseball. Details that can turn, say, a hard hopper to short into a routine groundout.
“We cover everything,” Hodges said. “From relays to first basemen, to working on balls in the dirt, balls up the line, covering first on pickoffs … .”
His blueprint stems from his own experiences as a youth camper.
In fact, Hodges, a native of Louisville, recalls learning the ins and outs of America’s Pastime while attending baseball camps as a wide-eyed slugger. Most especially, it was the camps he and his teammates attended at Oklahoma State University that narrowed — focused — his wide eyes. Hodges went on to play for The University of North Carolina at Pembroke.
“I was fortunate enough growing up to go to Oklahoma State’s camp,” Hodges said. There, he learned from the likes of then-OSU player Robin Ventura, a former major leaguer and current manger of the Chicago White Sox. “Every year we went out to Oklahoma State and we had the same philosophy.
“And (during the school year) we were one of the leading schools in the state as far as batting average.”
In Hodges’ mind, it was no coincidence.
“Even today you can watch and tell who the camp kids are,” he said. “It’s rewarding to watch the LYBA all-stars and the kids that grew up and see me and say, ‘Coach did you see my swing?’”
A recent such instance comes to mind.
“Caleb Huffman was playing in a coach pitch all-star game in Clarkton and a picture was taken of him right at (his swing’s) extension,” Hodges said. “We blew up the picture, brought it to camp and held it next to a picture of (Carlos) Gonzalez’s extension on a home run.”
Carlos Gonzales is a leftfielder for the Colorado Rockies who currently sits third in the National League in home runs with 17.
“We put them side-by-side — they were mirror images,” Hodges said. “Gonzalez hitting a 400-foot bomb and Huffman both had perfect extension. The kids were floored … It was really neat. Little things like that are what make it all worth it.”