Alexandria Aces give back with youth summer camps

Alexandria Aces give back with youth summer camps
Sully, a camper at the Alexandria Aces' baseball camp, steps up to bat (Photo Credit: Evan Berkowitz)

By Evan Berkowitz |

Day in and day out this summer, Alexandria Aces catcher David Martinez has woken up early and gone to bed late.

But he’s doing even more than playing with the Aces, now ranked No. 4 nationally among collegiate summer league teams, and preparing for his junior season at Austin Peay State University in Tennessee.

Martinez is among a handful of Aces players spending their time in the Port City as counselor coaches for the team’s affiliated weeklong youth baseball camps, offered from mid-June through the end of July at Frank Mann Field.

“It’s tough,” he said between innings during the intra-camp scrimmage that ends each day. “But how I see it is, I can sleep any other time, but these kids need the help more than anything.”

If that means going to bed at 1:30 a.m. and being on-field by the camp’s 9:30 start time, Martinez doesn’t mind.

Counselor Ben Davenport pitches to camper Sully as counselor David Martinez, catcher for the Aces, waits behind the plate. Martinez, who grew up in Venezuela and now lives in Florida, is a junior at Tennessee’s Austin Peay State University and began catching for the Aces this season (Photo Credit: Evan Berkowitz)

“If you’re going to be motivating somebody else,” he said, “Man, there’s nothing better than that.” It’s a sentiment that John Skaggs, who co-owns the camp’s operator, Prime Time Baseball, with Aces Coach David DeSilva and Assistant Coach Chris Berset, has seen many times over during his four years with the camp.

“Let’s be honest,” said Skaggs, who played first base in the Aces’ inaugural season. “They’re college guys, they’re here for the summer, they’re having to … be at camp at 9 a.m. after they just played last night and then they’re playing tonight. They’ve got obligations, whether it’s taking online classes or they gotta go get their lift in, or they want to just go and chill.

“At first, it’s like, ‘Man, I gotta go do this?’” Skaggs said. “But then once you’re there, you’re like ‘Oh man,’ you know, ‘these kids look up to me, they’re asking for autographs, they’re asking for help, I’m really getting a chance to give back to the community that allows me to better myself at baseball.’”

As the camp progresses, he said, more and more players get involved.

“They’re the kind of guys who can just come and help work with the kids,” Skaggs said. “That shows a lot of the excitement that these college kids [have] to get involved.”

Tobias Dienstfrey, an Alexandria resident whose 8-yearold son, Lev, participated in the camp, said the college-aged coaches “have been amazing,” and that the “kids look up to them.”

Twelve-year-old camper Charlie agreed.

“We get professional training from professional guys who have a chance of even going to the big leagues,” he said.

“It’s fun to get to know the players,” Avery, an 8-year-old camper, said, “and know they’re nice on and off the field.”

The college coaches lead drills every day, beginning with a run-stretch-throw exercise, Skaggs said. Campers then move to fielding stations where they practice handling mock grounders or learn the proper way to throw a player out from all the way across the diamond, Skaggs said.

Hitting stations take it a step further each day, from introducing basic stance in the batter’s box to teaching campers how to tackle off-speed pitches or angle hits toward the opposite field.

The camp’s lessons go beyond baseball fundamentals, according to college-aged counselor Ben Davenport, who isn’t on the Aces but plays club baseball at Penn State.

“We can teach, through a camp, respect, working with others [and] what it’s like to be on a team,” Davenport said. “At the end of the day, they may not all be at the same talent level, but we want them to walk away … having [had] a good five days – a good, nice, fun week, while also learning a lot about baseball.”

It’s these qualities, Skaggs said, that ensures that “the college guys are really the heart and soul of the camp.”

Martinez has been especially committed among Aces players, Skaggs said, working all five days of the cycle.

Martinez said he wouldn’t have it any other way.

“Kids at this age need to see somebody consistently,” he said as he prepared to leave for the Aces’ away game with the Baltimore Redbirds that evening. (The Aces would beat Baltimore in an extra-innings rally, 6-4.)

“If you have new coaches, they don’t know what to believe in.”

Being consistently present is necessary, despite the obstacles, to keep campers steadily improving and learning to enjoy the game, he said — just like others did for him.

“A lot of people don’t invest the right amount of time in the young kids, and you can see it … when they get older,” Martinez said. “A lot of people aren’t motivated to play baseball as much as when I was young, [but] people motivated me a lot, so that’s why I’m so passionate about it now.”

Baseball, he said, is specifically important for children, as it’s a sport without boundaries.

“There’s no size limit, there’s no weight [limit] — anything,” he said. From five-foot-six Houston Astros second baseman José Altuve to six-foot-seven New York Yankees right fielder Aaron Judge, anyone can find his or her niche.

“It just has to do with skill and how much you want it,” Martinez said. “If you are able to work hard, … anybody can make it, and that’s my favorite part.”