FORT WAYNE – Outside this bright room at Parkview Field, there were small Himalayas of snow everywhere, the field itself was bundled in white and the mercury wouldn’t see double digits again before morning.
But Friday night, in a roomful of local athletic heavyweights, it was all about baseball, anyway.
That’s because the host for this soiree – the fourth annual Party in the Park charity event – was Eric Wedge, and so baseball it would be. The former Northrop star and 2007 American League Manager of the Year was talking about his new gig as a baseball analyst for ESPN. He was talking about how, someday, he’d like to be in a major league dugout again. He was talking about the Wedge Foundation started by him and his wife, Kate, and how it was raising money for SCAN in Fort Wayne.
The Wedges’ foundation and the Fort Wayne Sports Corp. were the beneficiaries of Friday’s activities, which included a silent auction of items ranging from a Steelers jersey autographed by Rod Woodson; a framed, autographed photo of Arnold Palmer; a framed photo from last year’s Pro Bowl autographed by Peyton Manning and Andrew Luck; and a Bengals football autographed by current Bengal and former Bishop Dwenger standout Tyler Eifert.
In addition, Dan Gebhart, Mitzi Toepfer and Dick Stimpson were recognized with community service awards; Bill Close won the Judy Stuart Award for volunteerism; and the late Jan Van Til was honored with the Hilliard Gates Award.
Before all of that, however, there was Wedge talking baseball – and the subject turned to the Eric Wedge Baseball Camps, which yearly draw 300-plus participants and which go off today at the ASH Centre for the 10th year.
I’ve said this probably five times tonight: The 8-year-old from the first year is getting ready to go into college, Wedge said. That sums it up for me.
That and the fact the core thrust of the camps hasn’t changed.
We talk about making life choices and good decisions, and it’s a different message for an 8-year-old vs. a 12-year-old and a 12-year-old vs. a 15-year-old and a 15-year-old vs. an 18-year-old, he said. But there all of these messages there to be had to help them make good decisions.
We want to give them every chance to be successful and we want to use baseball as a tool to do that. Somebody has to play baseball in high school, somebody has to play baseball in college, somebody has to play baseball in the professional ranks. So why not you?
To help answer that question, the camps have morphed into three sessions in the last decade. The morning session is a skills camp for kindergartners through fifth-graders; the middle session is a hitting camp for sixth- through ninth-graders; and the last session is the College Exposure Camp for sophomores, juniors and seniors, which Wedge acknowledges has changed the most over the years.
We have scouts and college people here, and we’ve had kids that have gone into those different colleges and universities because of what they’ve been exposed to here, Wedge said. The numbers there have really gone through the roof, so that’s really given a lot more credibility to us.