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Five-year-old rookies and 19-old vets come to camp for love of the game

By Chris Mascaro
Marisol Díaz/The Riverdale Press
Johnathan Rosario, 21, coaches proper batting technique to Jadiel Vasquez, 6, at the Van Cortlandt League morning baseball camp on Wednesday, July 30, 2014.
Marisol Díaz/The Riverdale Press
Justine Espinoa, 6, takes batting practice at the Van Cortlandt League morning baseball camp sessions on Wednesday, July 30, 2014.

It’s longer than a four-hour baseball camp, but for the first 90 minutes, you won’t see a glove or a bat.

During that time, the members of the Van Cortlandt League baseball camp are off in the grassy areas behind the ballfields, stretching, running and doing calisthenics. Younger campers are in gray shirts with light blue lettering, while older participants are in fluorescent green shirts with black lettering. The four coaches are in red shirts.

For this part of camp, everyone is together. They do form running (high knees, backpedaling, side-stepping) before drills around sets of cones. In one, they’ll squat down in a baseball fielding stance as they side-step. In another, they’ll do mountain climbers. In another, push-ups.

When the older kids break off to run sprints up a hill in the woods, the younger kids take a break. They do the  same when the older boys run sprints with a large tire harnessed to their backs.

When they are finished, all the boys sit under tarps in the dugouts for some shade. They replenish themselves with water and Gatorade, and some nosh on $1 chicken-filled empanadas vendors sell at the field.

Johnny Arias, the president of the Van Cortlandt Baseball League, has been running the camp for the last 10 years. The 55-year-old retired city worker is ubiquitous in the middle of the four adjoining ballfields in Van Cortlandt Park visible from Broadway. The league plays games nearly every afternoon in the summer, and every weekday morning for eight weeks, Arias runs a camp from 8:30 a.m. until 1 p.m. 

He charges each player $20 per week to attend the camp with a one-time $50 registration fee that gets them a uniform. About 150 boys — all from the Bronx — participate. They are welcome to come every day, and while some do, on July 30, there were about 75 campers. They ranged from 5-years-old to 19.

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