By Kyle Koso
The wash of uniform colors and designs at the Ballpark in Erie on Monday spoke to the enthusiasm that took root at a special feature of the Triple Crown Colorado 4th of July event.
Dozens of club fastpitch programs were represented, and about 250 athletes took part, in two sessions of the 14u Elite Camp that were designed and directed by some of the most notable Division-I programs in the nation. In the morning wing, Texas A&M, Oregon and Ole Miss each hosted a field at the complex and dug deep into their toolbox to share ideas and provide training and insight that the athletes were clearly grateful to absorb.
The sight of titantic softball coaching figures such as Jo Evans of Texas A&M, Mike Smith of Ole Miss and Mike White of Oregon, definitely kept attention levels high for the four-hour workouts.
"I just love the game, and I learned so much from the coaches. I so want to go to Oregon for softball, and to learn even more," said Jerika Fitting of the Utah Cruisers, who cut an impressive figure on the field with her speed and strong batting stroke. "I thought it was awesome - I love meeting the coaches and getting to know them more. I liked how everyone was cheering on everyone else (through the drills), and that's what we needed to do."
"I wanted to learn something new. I really love A&M, and it was to come out here and work with the staff. I learned a ton today," said Madison Applebe, a pitcher for the HotShots Nelson out of Texas who already profiles to be an impact arm, and bat, at the next level. "I watched the whole World Series and seen other games, too. I wanted to show them what I've got, and I am also working hard on some hitting aspects of the game, because that's a focus of mine as well."
Each workout had distinctive moments of conversation, where a member of the coaching staff would take a player aside and discuss a bit of technique or approach; infielders were asked to test their range on hard-hit grounders, and outfielders learned more about the right path to take on challenging fly balls.
The day provided a 10-to-1 ratio of players to coaches, much more intimate than the average 14-year-old would likely expect in the company of such accomplished college programs.
"I appreciate the opportunity to come and work with my staff; to have the Texas A&M brand here ... I'm always thrilled to be on the field if it's with players who want to get better and have enthusiasm for what they do," Evans said. "You can see the ones who have been well-coached and have that skill set you look for. I'm trying to encourage them to play hard; we should be able to hear and feel their passion. It's important they need to bring every day.
"I don't expect them to be perfect. These kids may see room for improvement, and it's great to see them out here. You work on the fundamentals; we want to give them some information and knowledge and wisdom, then turn them loose so they can show how they really play."
After the drills, the coaches were happily posing for dozens of pictures with the campers, further anchoring the moment and the memories from the 14u Elite Camp.
"It's important for us to do this. We can come to them," Smith said. "The kids get a feel for us as a staff, get to know the kind of people we are and what we expect. We are human beings, and sometimes they see us on TV and see us differently. Our job is to make this game better for the next generation. It's about skill set and to teach it the right way.
"They have individual coaches, so they are so much better than (14u) players were years ago. With the new recruiting rules, it's going to take pressure off. They will be able to concentrate more on the physical skills of the game, and not just showcasing. That has been a stress for the players and parents, and now they can have fun and learn it the right way. When they are ready for recruiting, they will be battle-tested."