A Dave Clark D3 (Disability, Dream and Do) Baseball Camp is good for what ails you. It is good for the heart. It is good for the mind. And, it is good for the soul. Walk into a D3 baseball camp feeling a little blue, a little down in the dumps, a little like life isn’t fair and your luck has turned sour and you’ll walk away with an upbeat and refreshed point of view.
The Dave Clark Foundation President Doug Cornfield Sr. likes to call the Dave Clark story the greatest “mostly unknown” professional sports account of our time. Clark, who was stricken with polio as a 10-month old child has built his life on positive possibility. Those possibilities included playing professional baseball.
A minor league pitcher, Dave Clark, pitched for several years in the minor leagues on crutches. Clark tackles every life challenge the same, ‘bust your tail working hard and preparing with no guarantees.’ And, as he told folks in his charge at a recent Disability Dream Day at Binghamton’s NYSEG Stadium, “Never limit potential. My parents never told me I couldn’t do anything and always encouraged me to try things. Let loose the leash and allow people to explore. We have limitations but they shouldn’t be limits. You never appreciate anyone’s potential unless you allow them to explore.”
Positive possibility reigned on the baseball diamond on Saturday. The Binghamton Met baseball players assembled as baseball camp instructors manning five stations; toss and catch, fielding, two batting stations and a target practice station with the B-Met players the targets and participants tossing the balls.
“It was a pretty humbling experience all together,” highly touted Met pitching prospect Steven Matz said after playing baseball with the disabled folks at the D3 camp. “I didn’t know what to expect. I’d never heard of Dave Clark. I’m really happy he came and we were a part of his camp, probably as much for me and the other guys as all of the kids.”
Matz’s reaction was typical of the reactions of the other B-Mets. Originally, guarded and somewhat reserved, it didn’t take long for the spirit and enthusiasm of the special needs kids to unleash the kid in the professional baseball players. The result was pure magic.
Matz relished working with the kids. He was the pitcher at a batting station that quickly transformed into a sandlot baseball game. Using an exaggerated Juan Marichal like leg kick and pumping his pitching arm around and around in circles, Matz would slow his motion to float a lollypop like serve toward home plate and simply delight when one of the kids stepped into it.
A young red haired lad named Tim with a buoyant personality was clearly not intimidated facing the flame throwing B-Met lefty. As he approached home plate Tim pointed his bat like Babe Ruth to the spot where he intended to rocket Matz’s pitch, to the hoots and hollers of Matz’s B-Met teammates.
A toss and catch station quickly changed shape becoming a baseball dodgeball game with B-Met pitchers Hansel Robles and newcomer Dario Avarez almost transported to their school yard days, twisting and turning to avoid a barrage of throws from participants. Eventually, Robles and Avarez weren’t afraid to return fire in a rollicking and lively remade baseball exchange.
One of my favorite moments came at the intended baseball target station, always a favorite of the kids. B-Met closer Cody Saterwhite made an inviting scarecrow like target with soft baseballs pelting him from all angles. The kids threw from behind a firing line, but one eager youngster kept inching forward, inching forward, closing in on his favorite target, B-Met outfielder Kyle Johnson. When he was finally almost on top of Johnson, the lad wrapped his arms around Johnson in a tight embrace. A surprised Johnson quickly returned the hug asking, “What’s up. Man?”
The towering relief pitcher Chase Hutchinson had a special knack of communicating with the kids. Like a popular camp counselor, Hutchinson would greet his charges at each station change with high fives and fist bumps directing personal greeting their way. “What’s your name, Big Guy?” “Whoa, you look like a real slugger.” “You ready to slam one a long way,” were typical queries Hutchinson sent the kids way.
As he had last summer, B-Met skipper Pedro Lopez delighted in watching his guys working with the youngsters. “We have to be grateful to the Lord for all the good things we have,” Lopez said when explaining what the day meant to he and his B-Mets. Lopez talked about the individual struggles people shoulder and how special the opportunity to give back and have fun with the kids and their families is for his B-Mets.
B-Met pitcher Tyler Pill had won his ninth consecutive game the night before the D3 baseball camp. Yet, it was working with the disabled kids on Saturday that really helped Pill appreciate how fortunate he and his teammates are to get an opportunity to play baseball at NYSEG. “This is a big day for us, a very special day,” Pill explained. “To see how much the kids enjoy getting a chance to play on this field, to watch how happy they are helps you appreciate how fortunate we are to play here everyday.”
The closing ceremony is a capstone event, an emotional finishing touch to a remarkable day. Team officials mark off a miniature sized baseball diamond down the left field line with the B-Met players standing almost shoulder to shoulder in a ring stretching from first base to third.
One at a time, Conner Gates, the Director of Community Relations for the B-Mets introduces the participants, each youngster to the plate where they select a plastic bat, then step into the batter’s box to face B-Met outfielder Darrell Ceciliani, the honorary pitcher for the day. Every hit is a home run with the kids running the bases to the cheers and chants of the B-Mets and the community volunteers, the sluggers high fiving and fist bumping the players as they make their journey around the bases. Each arrives back at home plate to a safe call where they receive a certificate for taking part in the special D3 baseball day.
Someone once said there are souls in our world who have a special gift in finding joy everywhere and leaving some behind wherever they have gone. Dave Clark and his D3 baseball camp brought a healthy dose of joy for all to share Saturday at Binghamton’s NYSEG Stadium, a joy that rises beyond even another record setting B-Met baseball campaign.