Learning their craft

NORTHEAST GLENDALE — While Conor Blakey has attended his share of baseball, basketball and soccer camps in recent years, he had yet to win a prize.

It wasn't something that tugged at Blakey, 11, but it might have been the perfect motivation to reverse course. For that to change, Blakey knew he needed to apply his complete concentration on catching tennis balls while looking into the blinding sun in short left field at Stengel Field on Wednesday during the Falcon Summer Baseball Camp.

Blakey needed to be sharp and up to the challenge while collecting a plethora of grass stains on his jersey. He made an array of sliding and over-the-shoulder-catches en route to winning the competition and snagging an elusive prize — a baseball jersey.

"It came to two people and me for the prize," said Blakey, one of about 75 participants on hand to learn the sport's fundamentals from Crescenta Valley High baseball Coach Phil Torres, his assistants and current and former players. "The balls were being hit higher and harder and I had to concentrate, like catching the balls with two hands.

"There were times where I would be afraid of squeezing my glove too early or too late and it would pop out. If you make a mistake, you have another chance to succeed and then make something happen."

The four-day camp, which went Monday through Thursday, was geared for those ages 7-13 and featured fundamentals on hitting, fielding, pitching and agility.

Brayden Nguyen, 8, said he attended the camp to help him improve his overall skills. Nguyen spent part of the camp working on bunting.

"It depends on where you bunt the ball," Nguyen said. "If you bunt the ball down the third-base line then the third baseman has to make a farther throw."

It marked the first time the camp was held in the summer.

A similar two-day camp is normally held in late-December by Torres. However, Torres said the summertime instruction can provide younger players further opportunities to excel during each camp drill.

"In the winter, you get the two days on fundamentals and then it's getting ready for the upcoming season," said Torres, who guided the Falcons to a CIF Southern Section Division I championship in 1998. "Here, it's a bit of a different format because the first two days focus on fundamentals and then we have different kinds of competitions and then they get to play games.

"We also had more guest speakers this week who could offer pointers on baseball and playing sports."

Among those who spoke at the camp were Glendale Community College baseball Coach Chris Cicuto, former Crescenta Valley High boys' basketball Coach John Goffredo and former Major League Baseball pitcher Matt Whisenant.

Torres, whose CV team qualified for the playoffs last season, said having area figures on board to speak brought out the best in the participants.

"These are guys who have either played or coached for a long time," Torres said. "[Goffredo] told them the best thing to do is work hard and do the extra stuff to try to make you a better player.

"It's about getting out there and hustling and playing in the street or in your front yard."

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