Youth baseball camp

Former Fort Payne baseball player and University of North Alabama catcher Jess Smith helps Ethan McElhaney in a drill Wednesday at the Fort Payne baseball camp.

Success has to start somewhere.

For Fort Payne baseball they start building the foundation of their program with players at an early age. Friday the Fort Payne High School baseball team wrapped up its annual youth baseball camp with around 40 kids attending the camp.

“The camp has been great,” Fort Payne head baseball coach Johnny Johnson said. “This is a typical turnout for us. We’ve got about 35 or 40 kids here, which is a good turnout for us. It’s exciting because hopefully these kids will be coming through our program in the future and it will help us set a good foundation.”

Johnson said not much can be taken away from the camp in terms of scouting, but it does introduce the players to how things are done at the high school level.

“You’ll know these kids, which is important and it will give you some name recognition when they do tryout for our team,” Johnson said. “The biggest thing is the terminology and fundamentals that we teach at the high school level these kids will have already heard it, at least once. I think that will pay off long term.”

The camp isn’t too serious, though. Johnson and the rest of the coaching staff just want to instill in the young players that baseball is a fun game.

“Hopefully we just make it fun for them,” Johnson said. “Baseball is a lot about failure and if we can make it more fun for them at this age then it’s a really good thing, because there’s times this game is not very fun.”

Fort Payne is coming off a berth in the second round of the state playoffs and graduated a big senior class. Several of the seniors started playing at young ages and attended the baseball camps. Johnson said having players attend the camp can lead to success at the high school level.

“We’ve done one every summer since 2005 so we’ve had a lot of guys since then come through our program,” Johnson said. “Logan McKenzie, played for us this year, came through our camps, and Layton Powell who graduated last year came to every camp and even helped when he was done.”

Several former players came back and helped this week and Johnson said that’s the case every year. Former Wildcat Jess Smith, who plays at the University of North Alabama came back to help along with Alan Smith and Lucas Bryant from last year’s team.

Johnson said it’s awesome that the former players want to come back and help.

“The beauty is you see a lot of former players come back and help,” Johnson said. “Jess Smith, who is at UNA has come back multiple years and helped. Alan Smith and Lucas Bryant played last year both came and helped. Every year we have guys come back and help. It’s fun to get those guys back in the program and give back a little.”

Johnson believes in the importance of not only the camps, but also youth baseball. He and assistant coach Eric Varnadore both coach a nine-year old, baseball team their sons play on.

“The more we can get kids playing youth baseball and being coached up correctly then it’s going to help our program,” Johnson said. “Our nine-year old team is so far ahead of where I was at that age. It’s straight-up baseball at nine. These kids are so mentally ahead of where kids used to be.”

After losing seven seniors off last year’s team the Wildcats will be a young team in 2016, but most of the players have been brought up in youth baseball and Johnson is confident in what they can do.

“We’re going to be very young this next year,” Johnson said. “We’ve only got two seniors and three juniors and we’re going to be babies. The good news is those babies have played a lot of baseball, so we’re going to throw them in the fire and see how they do.”

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