Camp began with registration in the newly constructed Palmerio Center. All campers were outfitted in new Maroon and White MSU baseball t-shirts before settling in for dinner in the Grisham Tunnel.
Once dinner was complete, the campers returned to the Palmerio Center where MSU pitching coach Russ McNickle explained the mechanics of throwing a baseball. Fathers and sons then lined up the full length of the indoor practice facility to test their new found knowledge. Ole #1 paced the room like an expectant father surveying the exercise and stopping to correct a grip or to offer some praise to some of the star-struck campers.
Coach Wade Hedges then explained and demonstrated the finer points of fielding before putting the campers through some other exercises to improve their game.
The group was broken down into four teams led by Coach Hedges, Coach McNickle, Coach Raffo and graduate assistant Coach Drye. Coach Raffo's team won most of the relay races and most of the other campers still contend Coach Raffo had less people. I have to agree with them, but I guess when you're a former Bulldog All-American you get a few breaks.
As the evening began to wind into the night, the Fathers and Sons enjoyed popcorn and a movie before most camped out in the Palmeiro Center. After being part of the first group of people to ever spend the night in the Palmerio Center, I have the following recommendation - if you ever get the chance to spend the night in the IPF, get a motel. It's a tremendous facility for football and baseball, but the Hilton it ain't!
Despite waking up with a stiff back and spending several minutes trying to get the circulation going in my arms again, it was time to shower in the Bulldog baseball locker room. Overheard beneath the shower heads were questions from the Bulldog sons about which shower Jeffrey Rea uses or if Jeff Butts ever brushed his teeth in this sink. I have never seen boys more excited about bathroom facilities in my life, but I have to admit it was pretty cool to get to use the locker room. I wonder if I used the same shower Bobby Thigpen used.
After digesting a wonderful Bulldog breakfast in Perry Cafeteria, it was time to get down to business. Today was the day that they boys got to hit and play some real baseball games. All of the fielding and throwing was great, but "Daddy, when do I get to hit?" was the common question of the day.
Coach Raffo went over the mechanics of Bulldog hitting and I must say it was a very impressive lecture. Tommy is an excellent instructor and he had the full attention of everyone in the room. I am still trying to make sure that the cameras on my hip, knee and shoe laces all take a picture of home plate at the same time. My son seemed to get it, but I guess when you have no body fat it is easy to get your hips around.
Raffo and Coach Drye then set up hitting stations to go over the fundamentals of balance, contact and follow through. I would bet that Coach Raffo corrected some minor things for about two dozen kids and they all hit the ball better and with more authority after the adjustment. To see a kid go from popping up to smashing line drives was impressive.
Once the battery of hitting instruction was done the big moment had arrived. We were now going to play a father/son scrimmage game on the hallowed grounds of Dudy Noble Field. I know some of the Dads had to put their emotions in check to keep from running once we got outside.
Our team, Team Hedges, was scheduled to play Team McNickle. First the argument over who was going to be the Bulldogs had to be fought. We were the Bulldogs, then they were the Bulldogs then we were the Bulldogs again, so we finally decided to just both be the Bulldogs even though some of the Dads didn't seem satisfied with that. Some wise-cracker on Team Hedges told Team McNickle that they looked more like the Rebels to him and I thought the benches were going to clear. Crisis averted we took the field as the homestanding BULLDOGS!
My son got to be the lucky one. Jimmy Poole from Amory let my son live his dream and play second, right there in Jeffrey Rea's spot. I didn't have to see his face to know he was smiling.
Team Hedges jumped out to an early 3-0 lead only to see Coach McNickle's Rebels, I mean Bulldogs come back to take the lead 5-4. The Hedges brain trust got together to motivate the troops for a late inning rally.
A base knock here and base knock there and the tying runs were on 2nd and 3rd with nobody out. Up steps the gritty, gutty second sacker Oni Robertson. With a single and double already to his credit in just two at-bats, we needed a hit here to even things up. Oni hits a ball right down the third base line and it's going to be a bang-bang play at first, but he motors it down the line and everybody's safe.
Oni's Dad was 1 for 2 on the day and was just happy to make contact using a 30 inch bat from the left hand side of the plate. My sac fly knocked in the go-ahead run and my day at the plate was done. A couple of big two-out hits plates Oni and another run to make the score Team Hedges 8 and Team McNickle 5.
As we head to the last half inning we make a few defensive changes to give some of the other boys a chance to play some infield. Oni sets up shop behind the plate a little disappointed to see some other kid in Jeffrey Rea's spot.
Team McNickle gets back-to-back hits to start the inning and we're a little concerned, but still think a three-run lead is safe. We get a cheap out on an infield popup and things look promising. The next man up laces one in the gap and a run scores. We get another out on a flyout and the stage is set for the big Bulldog win.
They have the tying runs on base, but we have an army of outfielders. Despite our best positioning, somehow a low line drive makes it into the outfield. A runner rounds third headed for home. I think to myself there is no way we get him, but former Bulldog baseball manager Big Jim Steadman throws a frozen rope from center all the way home and Oni makes the catch on the fly and turns to tag Mr. Murphy who is barreling down the line and can't stop.
There is a huge collision at home plate between Mr. Murphy and my son. All of Team Hedges is cheering because it was clear the tag had been made. I run up to home plate to see if my son is okay and everyone suddenly realizes that he is okay and he hung on to the baseball. Team Hedges WINS! Team Hedges WINS! There is joy in Starkville.
As my son was dusting himself off, Coach McNickle said, "That's the MVP right there." Hey, who could argue with 3-for-3, 3 RBI, 2 runs scored including the eventual game winner and the defensive play of the day? I must say I was beaming with pride.
We went back inside to hear Coach Polk's camp wrap-up speech and I must admit I was a little sad to be leaving. I am sure most of the Dads were. Here we were for one weekend getting to act like boys with our own boys. It couldn't be better. All the boys got an autographed baseball and a few other souvenirs. We Dads shook hands and promised to get together next year and do it again.
Oni and I packed our things and began the long road home back across enemy lines. Stiff back and all, I loved the camp. As the mile markers passed and Starkville got farther and farther in the rearview mirror, I thought about my son's weekend. About how wonderful it is to have a son to share things like this with and how great it is to see the passion I have for MSU take fire in my own son's life. I thought about how I need to take better care of myself, so that when he gets his chance to be a Bulldog some day I am there to root for him when kids want to shower in the shower he uses or play his position in a camp scrimmage.
It wasn't long before I was thinking about my own Dad who passed away just a few short months ago. It's times like these when I miss him the most and I would give almost anything to be able to call him and tell him that his grandson went 3-for-3 at Dudy Noble or that he didn't get nervous when Coach Polk talked to him or that Coach Hedges told him how great his footwork was.
I broke the silence and said, "You know it's too bad your Papa Fred wasn't there to see you play so well this weekend."
Oni replied, "Daddy, I know he saw me and I'll bet he helped me hang on to the ball on the play at the plate."
"Yeah, son you're right he probably did!"
Make plans to attend next years' Father and Son baseball camp. The staff plans to expand the camp to accommodate more campers and may have two camps, so that everyone who wants to go gets to go. The experience is one that I will cherish my entire life. Oh, and one more thing - Pick up the phone today and call your own Dad and tell him how much you love him. You never know when you won't have the chance to do that anymore.
Until next time,
Steve Robertson writes The Robertson Report for the Dawgs' Bite, Powered by GenesPage.com website. Steve's email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.