BY MICHAEL KELLY
NISKAYUNA — Standing near third base at one of the Blatnick Park baseball diamonds, Niskayuna 8U travel coach Dave Fields spent several minutes at a recent practice explaining how he wanted his players to run the bases.
Hard and fast, but also attentive to detail. With his runners stationed at first base, he put them through a drill in which they rounded second and looked to him for a physical signal to see if they should run to him at third.
“This,” Fields explained to heads nodding in agreement, “is not your decision.”
Niskayuna’s youngest batch of travel baseball players qualified for its division’s state championships, which start July 15 in Marlboro. Continuing to learn the basics, though, is what’s most important for Fields’ team of 13 players this summer.
Zach Kerr, who graduated from Niskayuna High School last month and was a varsity baseball player, is helping out Fields’ team this summer. Kerr’s little brother Alex is on the team, and the former Silver Warriors pitcher said the club’s coaching staff puts more emphasis on process than results.
“[Practices] are mostly about skills, fundamentals — just doing everything right,” Zach Kerr said. “It’s about making sure they understand the game before they really are playing it.”
The group, though, is already doing a pretty good job at playing the game. The Niskayuna team finished in second place in its district tournament, which qualified the group for state play.
“We didn’t know what was going to happen there,” Alex Kerr said of the district tournament in South Colonie. “We were hoping to beat some teams, and that’s what happened.”
Fields said his 13-player roster was carved from an initial pool of 23 players. That number was first cut to 17 for a spring travel season and later trimmed to 13 for its final tournaments.
The idea, the coach said, was to try to involve as many players for as long as possible.
“I’ve coached high school and college baseball, and all the way down to T-ball,” Fields said. “I’m a huge proponent of you really can’t judge a young player. They grow at such a fast rate.”
Making sure the season of play has been kept relatively light, in terms of intensity and pressure, has been key. Besides developing basic skills, Fields said one of his coaching staff’s main goals is to make sure each player wants to keep playing baseball beyond this season.
“I want this to be good for them, but I want it to be better for them later,” Fields said. “We don’t want to turn anyone off to baseball at 8 years old … so we’re very cautious about that.”
At the district tournament, Niskayuna got its biggest test in that regard during its final game. After dominating its first few games, the squad lost to a North Colonie team to end its run.
“The last game didn’t go our way,” Fields said. “It was probably the best game we played, but there were some emotions after that game.”
Zach Kerr added: “But it was a good thing for them that they lost. They know what that’s like now.”
After the initial shock of the loss, the group of players rebounded to handle the defeat well. Fields expects more of the same from the smiling group when it plays for a state title.
“It’s going to be very interesting to take the youngest group to their first-ever states experience,” Fields said. “It’s a group of rookies, so it will be interesting — and fun.”