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Juneau youth and high school baseball and softball players had an opportunity to hone their skills and learn from an experienced pro Friday and Saturday as former professional player Ben Boulware, representing America's Baseball Camp, put on a short camp at Marie Drake gymnasium.
Three groups of 25 players filled the gym from morning to night with 12 to 14 year old baseball players taking the morning shift, high school baseball players working in the afternoon and softball players taking the night slot.
The players worked on basic fundamentals like proper batting stances and hitting techniques. But ball skills were not the only lessons taught by Boulware at the camp; he also preached life lessons and making the right choices.
"We focus on teaching the kids to make the right decisions right now," Boulware said. "We teach anti-drug, -alcohol, and -tobacco. Making a difference with the kids is very important to me."
Boulware played college baseball at Cal Poly - San Luis Obispo, where he was a member of two NCAA Division II College World Series teams. After college, Boulware was drafted by the Chicago White Sox in the seventh round. He played in the White Sox organization for five years and won a minor-league batting title.
Boulware also has playing experience in Alaska, where he played in the Alaska Summer League with the Mat-Su Miners and Kenai Peninsula Oilers. He says he still makes four or five trips to Alaska each year to run similar youth camps in Wasilla, Soldotna, Homer and Valdez.
The camp was set up by Juneau-Douglas High School head baseball coach Jim Ayers, who met Boulware three years ago at America's Baseball Camp headquarters in Arizona. Ayers said he liked what Boulware was teaching, but was most impressed with Boulware's character.
"He's the kind of role model we wanted," Ayers said. "He comes from the outside, he's a fresh voice and he has major league experience. The kids find him interesting and fun to be around."
"He's a great guy," sophomore catcher Chris Dillon said while waiting his turn to work one-on-one with Boulware in the batting cage. "He doesn't make you nervous and he knows what he's talking about."
With the marginal Juneau weather, it's difficult for ballplayers to get enough opportunities to keep their skills sharp. Players are forced to play indoors, where they must compete for gym time with many other sports. The camp gave them some valuable additional time to hone their skills.
"It's good to get more gym time," sophomore pitcher/infielder Zack Mixson said.
Last year, Ayers set up a fall day camp with minor league players Chad Bentz and Rob Conway, both JDHS alumni. However, last year's camp was limited to high school baseball players only. This year, it was expanded to include youth players as well as girls softball players.
"We're trying to work with the younger ones," Ayers said. "And we want to get the girls in softball involved."
Despite the weather-related drawbacks, Boulware had a lot of praise for the Juneau ballplayers. He said the younger players were raw, but the older players were polished.
"The younger players are gonna be raw - they don't get to play year-round like down south," Boulware said. "But they'll get the mechanics down and they'll be fine. They're good-quality kids."
Jeff Kasper is a freelance writer and former Empire sports writer. He can be reached at 463-4645.