Local players: batter up!

PUBLISHED : Friday, 26 August, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 26 August, 2011, 12:00am

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A total of 130 young baseball players attended a four-day summer baseball training camp held at Hong Kong International School (HKIS) in Tai Tam from August 13-16.

The players were divided into two age groups, 8-12 and 13-18. Each group had a three-and-a-half-hour training session with four coaches who are all former MLB (Major League Baseball) players from the United States.

All participants tried out different positions and learnt new skills and techniques.

The coaches - Charles Gipson, Brian Tollberg, Desi Relaford and Gary Bennett - are not new to the training camp. For some, this is their third summer in Hong Kong.

Baseball is popular in North America, and even in Taiwan and Japan, it is considered a top sport. But it is less popular in Hong Kong. Tollberg suggested that the lack of space at home hindered the growth of baseball in Hong Kong.

'In the States, many kids watch baseball on TV and then go to the backyard immediately for practice. It may be some simple ball throwing or catching but the fundamentals are always important. That's what I did when I was a kid,' said Tollberg.

Gipson said after the workshop: 'It was hot and humid for all four training days and the schedule was tight. We did a lot of drills and running. But the students were hardworking and did great.'

Relaford was impressed to see the teenagers' improvement. 'This is my third time coaching the camp and some players have joined the past two years' events. They have a better understanding of the game,' he said. All coaches agreed that the sport has made progress in Hong Kong and the gap between Hong Kong and American players is getting narrower. They said that some players at the camp would meet the standard of junior league competition in the US.

Ice Yim Cho-kiu was one of the players praised by the coaches. The diploma student from the Space Community College of the University of Hong Kong was the only girl at the training camp this year but she plays tough when training with the boys.

'I was a softball national junior team player but I've had less chance to play baseball,' she said. 'Last year, my friends attended the camp and they liked it very much. So even though they were not able to come this year, they recommended that I join. I found it very enjoyable but challenging at the same time.'

Luke Spiegel, a 16-year-old HKIS student, plays for his school team. 'Baseball is all about effort and it is nice to know I am playing better after the camp,' he said. 'I can tell the sport is expanding here as there are more teams joining local league competitions.'

Luke's Grade 10 schoolmate Daniel Gaynor also had a great time at the workshop. 'Since I don't have space for baseball action at home, I usually book the squash court at the clubhouse in my estate to practise,' he said.

Jon Walsh, communications manager at HKIS, said the school is happy to offer the venue for the summer event. 'Our school subsidises other local students to join the camp,' he said. 'HKIS hopes to help promote baseball in schools and also in the community.'