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Goldeyes Holiday Skills Camp Keeps Kids Into Baseball in the Dead of Winter

In keeping with tradition, Baseball Manitoba and the Winnipeg Goldeyes team up once again for a fun day of baseball in December.

By Scott Taylor
November 2010

Donnie Smith understands the logistics. It’s one day, it’s in the dead of winter and the gym will be packed.

Still, he’s confident he can impart enough information to a building full of fresh-faced kids that the all become better baseball players next summer.

“If we can teach the kids one or two things that they’ll take back with them and use next summer, I’d say we’ve done a good job,” said Smith, the former Goldeyes reliever who is now a physical education teacher and hockey coach.

“Look, we can’t expect this one-day clinic to result in a bunch of great baseball players going out onto the field the next day and playing like big leaguers. It’s December in Winnipeg and they won’t have any place to play for five months. But if we can give them something to take with them, one or maybe two things, then I’d call it a successful day.”

The day he hopes will be successful is approaching quickly. On Dec. 18, the Winnipeg Goldeyes will play host to their annual Princess Auto Holiday Skills Camp at the University of Winnipeg’s Duckworth Centre.

More than 70 kids are expected to take part in a day of baseball and fun, featuring Smith and Goldeyes second baseman Price Kendall.

Former Goldeyes reliever Donnie Smith will return as a camp clinician for the 2010 Princess Auto Holiday Skills Camp.

Former Goldeyes reliever Donnie Smith will return as a camp clinician for the 2010 Princess Auto Holiday Skills Camp.

Smith was a relief pitcher for the Goldeyes – probably the best one in franchise history -- from 1998-2006. He holds the team record for most games by a pitcher with 206 and, of course, much of what makes his career so amazing is the fact he was a homegrown boy, playing ball almost in his backyard.

He is one of only two players in Goldeyes history to have his number (21) retired by the team.

Kendall, meanwhile, just completed his rookie season with the Goldeyes, where he spent most of is time at second base. He hit.302 in 48 games with three home runs and 20 RBI. This off-season, he’s working at Juvenile Hall in San Francisco, where his godmother is the Hall director.

“It’s probably what I’ll do when I finish playing baseball, Kendall said with a laugh. “I love working with kids and that’s why I’m excited about the Skills Camp. For me, the focus will be on the kids having fun, leaving at the end of the day having learned something to take back with them when they start playing again in the spring.”

According to Goldeyes general manager Andrew Collier, there is no record of the exact year in which the Holiday Skills Camp started. “It’s at least 10 years old,” said Collier, who has worked for the Goldeyes since Day 1.

“I think this camp is one of the great things we do,” Collier said. “It’s good for the kids to get this level of instruction in the middle of winter. Even if the kids are playing hockey, its one day to break up the routine that hockey can become over a long winter.

“This is a good way to break up the monotony of winter. It gives them a chance to run around, to practice sliding, to hit the ball, all that fun stuff.”

The University of Winnipeg

The University of Winnipeg"s spacious Duckworth Centre will once again be home to the camp. More than 70 young ballplayers are expected to take part in 2010.

Collier wasn’t taking a shot at hockey in any way. He is, after all, a hockey dad himself. But he does know that kids like to do other things when they get the chance and this is an opportunity to not only do something different than hockey, but also get some instruction in the finer points of baseball from those who know.

In fact, Jason Miller, who runs camps and clinics for Baseball Manitoba, was asked to get the supporting staff together and he could not have done a better job.

Top Manitoba coach Bryan Ezako, Mike Krykewich and Greg Bouchard will be part of the camp’s stellar line-up of clinicians, but so too will coaches Jamie Bettens and Glen Hunter and star player Cody Hunter from Manitoba’s 2010 National Junior Baseball champions.

Along with Smith and Kendall, this terrific group of Manitoba coaches – and one star player – will lead a group of about 70 youngsters through a one-day, high energy camp that should shake out the winter doldrums.

In addition to Smith and Kendall of the Goldeyes, a number of top Baseball Manitoba coaches (like Bryan Ezako pictured here) will assist in providing quality instruction to camp attendees.

In addition to Smith and Kendall of the Goldeyes, a number of top Baseball Manitoba coaches (like Bryan Ezako pictured here) will assist in providing quality instruction to camp attendees.

“From my experience, the kids absolutely love this camp,” said Morgan de Pena, the executive director of Baseball Manitoba. “Any kid who plays baseball loves to get out in the middle of winter and throw the ball around.

“No doubt it’s great PR and marketing for the Goldeyes and at the same time, it’s great for the kids who play baseball in Manitoba. I’ve been a clinician a couple of times and not only do the kids love it, but the clinicians love it, too.

“It’s fun to play ball in the middle of winter and if they learn something that they can take with them to become better ball players in the spring, then all the better. That’s just a bonus. It’s a fun day.”

While Smith is concerned that the kids aren’t going to improve dramatically in one day, Kendall is just excited that a group of 70 kids want to take off their coats and boots and play some ball.

“Above all else, I’m a baseball fan,” said Kendall, whose own favorite team, the San Francisco Giants, won the 2010 World Series. “I love the game of baseball and the people who play it so when I get a chance to do something for young people, I’ll be the first one there and I’ll be ready to get something done.

“I never tire of this stuff. When I get a chance to meet the kids who come to our games, it just gets me more excited for next season, and when you teach something to someone else, it re-enforces the skills you’ve already learned and helps make you a better player. This clinic is all upside for me. I can’t wait to get there.”

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