° empty

Rayburn brings baseball camp to Natchez despite postponement

Thomas Graning | The Natchez Democrat Noah Russ hits the ball during the Remember Why First baseball camp Wednesday at Chester Willis Field.
Thomas Graning | The Natchez Democrat
Noah Russ hits the ball during the Remember Why First baseball camp Wednesday at Chester Willis Field.

NATCHEZ — Even though poor weather conditions pushed the first Remember Why Baseball Camp to Wednesday and Thursday, camp creators Chris Rayburn and Chris Geronimo were thrilled with the turnout for the first day.

Nearly 50 children assembled at Chester Willis Field Wednesday afternoon, where Rayburn and Geronimo instructed and emphasized technique.

Along with the baseball clinic, Rayburn, who works at Kyle Suire’s Baseball Academy in Gonzalez, La., and Geronimo, who is a Tampa Bay Rays scout, plan on charging $20 to 7th graders and older to be scouted on the second and last day of camp, which is today.

Going into the camp, which Rayburn said he hopes to bring to small towns across the South, Rayburn felt a range of emotions, including disappointment for the postponement.

“The (MLB) draft is in two days, and that kind of hurts us,” Rayburn said. “A lot of scouts were going to come this past weekend before we postponed. But some junior colleges and other colleges like Southern Miss and Mississippi State might send a guy to see Quinton (Logan) throw.”

Logan is a junior left-handed pitcher for the Trinity Saints.

The postponement couldn’t keep Rayburn from smiling Wednesday afternoon as the camp wrapped up with kids playing against each other in scrimmages. Rayburn labeled the camp a success, as he was expecting anywhere from 25 to 40 kids to show up.

“It was amazing,” Rayburn said. “Fifty kids in Natchez on a short-term notice? That just shows what the potential is in this area, how many kids really do want it.”

Geronimo got an up close look at kids who “want it,” as Cathedral sophomore Zac Flattmann and Logan helped instruct at the camp.

“I’ve heard a lot about them,” Geronimo said. “I got to see them in person today, and they look like great athletes. I’ve seen their numbers too, which were awesome.”

Thomas Graning | The Natchez Democrat Coleman Carter releases a pitch during the camp Wednesday.
Thomas Graning | The Natchez Democrat
Coleman Carter releases a pitch during the camp Wednesday.

Both Rayburn and Geronimo are former Minor League Baseball players, playing alongside each other in the San Diego Padres’ farm system. Caleb Johnson, who graduated from Cathedral in 2010 and is currently playing in the M.I.N.K. (Missouri, Iowa, Nebraska, Kansas) League with the Ozark Generals, is hoping to follow in their footsteps.

Russ was anxious to show what he could do in front of Geronimo this afternoon.

“From my standpoint, there are five tools in baseball — can you hit for average, can you hit for power, can you field, do you have an arm and can you run?” Johnson said. “I believe I can.”

Meanwhile, different age groups simulated a game with tennis balls taking the place of real baseballs. This was 9-year-old Noah Russ’ favorite part of the camp. This came after he learned a new trick on the baseball diamond.

“I learned how to bunt today,” said Russ, showing how to properly grip the bat. “You put your hand on the bat like this, and grab this part with your thumb.”

Along with teaching proper fundamentals, one of the main purposes for the Remember Why camps is to introduce small town athletes to scouts and instructors, in hopes that the athletes could gain attention.

Geronimo hopes that next all-star he’s looking for will come from Natchez.

“(Natchez athletes) haven’t been exposed to anyone,” Geronimo said. “That’s why Natchez hasn’t produced many professional players, aside from the handful that they have, but the thing I liked about the athletes I came across at the camp is that they’re all hard workers. I’m hoping to get a lot of high school prospects out here today.”

Following today’s camp, which lasts from 10 a.m. until 2 p.m., local athletes will get their opportunity to showcase their skillset, and Rayburn said any kid that wants to participate in today’s camp may do so for half price at $40.