BY MICHAEL KELLY
NISKAYUNA — After a big hit resulted in a couple runs scoring toward the close of the July 14 session of the annual sandlot baseball camp in town, one of the field’s youngsters tried to pick up his team’s spirits.
“Hey,” he said, “at least we’re winning by two, or something.”
Keeping score took a backseat to having fun throughout July at the sandlot camps, which John Furey — Niskayuna high school’s varsity baseball coach — has run for nearly two decades. The sandlot sessions follow traditional camps of instruction, and harken back to a time when playing sports was a little less structured.
“I looked around, it was about 17 years ago when we started this, and said these kids need to get the chance to play games like we did,” Furey said. “They need to make calls on their own, be involved in the administration of games. I used to love playing sandlot, and kids were missing out on it.”
Furey sets up three weeks of sandlot-style games at Blatnick Park each summer, but his involvement pretty much consists of supervising. The players — ages 7 to 13 — compete on two fields, picking their own teams and making their own calls.
“Some kids know the score,” Furey said. “Most are just playing for love of the game.”
While there is not an emphasis placed on winning — teams switch every day, so there’s no standings kept — the players give it their all on each play and look the part of serious ball players. Matthew Hand, a 7-year-old, showed up to the July 14 session in a full baseball uniform.
His face caked with eye black, Hand said the best part about the sandlot games is simple.
“Just having fun playing with your friends,” he said.
Most players that play in the sandlot games play in multiple weeks of the games and often come back for a second year — and, a third, fourth, and fifth.
Conor Graham, a 16-year-old high school varsity baseball player, worked as one of the counselors for the games — he took turns pitching and catching on the field of younger players — and said some of his favorite summer memories are of playing at the sandlot camp.
“This was my thing when I was little,” Graham said. “I came every morning that I could.”
The July 14 game ended with an 18-17 score — give or take a few runs — and Leo Polsinelli scored the game-winning run. Some errors were made along the way in accounting for the game’s 35 runs, but Furey said one of the benefits of the sandlot baseball camps is that the positive moments are what stick with the young ball players.
“The plays they miss, they forget all about them,” Furey said. “But they remember all the plays they make.”
At the end of the July 14 session, that point was illustrated in the closing huddle. With all the players around him from the game with the younger kids, Furey posed a question.
“Hey, who made a great play today?” Furey asked.
Nearly every player had a hand go up.