Instead of playing video games, watching television and gazing at a phone all day, dozens of kids in Pine Bluff have an all-American alternative: PRO-DAY youth baseball camp. The camp is sponsored by New Life Church of Pine Bluff, and Pastor Matt Mosler has been heavily involved with the activities each day.
With the help of local independent baseball coach Jeff Gross, area high school coaches, collegiate athletes and players from Pine Bluff High School, New Life Church officials say they have gone over and above their goals for attendance this year.
The camp began Monday and will last through Friday. There have been anywhere from 40-50-plus kids participating, and as the days go by the number of campers increases.
Gross has been instrumental in the on-field structuring of the camp. They get going at 9 a.m. with instruction, then it's stretching in the outfield, hitting, pitching, fielding and base running. After lunch and a devotion by Mosler, the campers play ball games in the afternoon.
"Since it's our first year doing the youth camp I was hoping for 40 kids, and we've exceeded that every day," Gross said. "We had over 40 the first two days, and over 50 today. It seems like we're adding kids every day as they're finding out about it. We've had kids from the Pine Bluff, Watson Chapel and White Hall areas, and kids from Woodlawn, Rison and McGehee. We have good coaches and instructors out here helping us."
At one point in time, Pine Bluff was a baseball factory, and it started with the little leagues that were spread throughout the city. Mosler and Gross remember those days, and they hope this youth camp is a step in the right direction to get things back to how they used to be.
"Pastor Mosler, he's a baseball person, and he loves the game," Gross said.
"Our goal is to get more kids interested in Pine Bluff and to build up the programs like they used to be. We used to have six little league programs with eight teams in each league. Each team had full 15 player rosters, meaning we had over 700 kids ages 9-12 playing baseball in Pine Bluff. Now we don't have two full leagues. We all know Pine Bluff was the baseball capital of the South at one time, and if we can get kids interested again, and get them in the church it'll help. Some of these kids have been on Taylor Field for their very first time and so far it's been a great week."
Mosler pointed out the number of abandoned baseball fields and facilities around Pine Bluff as proof of how the culture has shifted. He feels baseball is key to the community of Pine Bluff, and he's pushing to bridge the gap.
"If you drive around Pine Bluff you see baseball fields all over the place," Mosler said. "You can play basketball all by yourself, but to play baseball you have to have someone to catch with. That means community, you have to have a dad, a buddy, somebody to catch with you. As my friend Fitz Hill has said, we want to bring the neighbor back to the hood. There's a lot of kids out here that don't have the money to play travel ball, but they have the talent. If we can get the community going I believe we can enjoy the great sport of baseball again."
Mosler is looking forward to the final two days of the camp, and he's quite sure that the kids are, too.
"It's a great way to reach out to the community," Mosler said. "They can learn about baseball, and they can learn about the Lord. There's so much discipline, patience and hard work involved in baseball. The glory is in the effort, the trophy is the by-product."