On Friday afternoon, Yankees outfielder Brett Gardner sat at a table during a news conference and looked out toward 206 enthused Yankees summer campers. With eyes glued to one of their favorite players, nearly everyone eagerly raised their hands hoping to ask him a question. Over the past week, they had learned and practiced baseball skills and drills, but now it was finally their turn to speak to a Major Leaguer who started out just like they have.
That opportunity is made available from late June to late August, when Little Leaguers ages 5-13 get the chance to participate in a one- to two-week Yankees summer camp session offering valuable baseball instruction held in various locations around New Jersey and New York.
Each week culminates with an exclamation point, a chance for campers, already donned in Yankee uniforms, to tour Yankee Stadium, try on some World Series rings in front of the Commissioner's Trophy earned in 2009, take a stroll through Monument Park and ultimately meet a current Yankee.
"It's fun for me," said Gardner. "I have two young boys, 3 and 5 years old. Maybe the next two years I'll send them to one of the summer camps. I know that the kids have fun. The highlight of the week is to come here and get to visit the Stadium, and obviously having a current player today, it was me coming in to meet them, take pictures and ask questions to get to know them a little bit. It's a lot of fun."
The camps provide a wealth of baseball knowledge, and the staff is comprised of professionally trained coaches and counselors catering their expertise to different age groups. Baseball activity is the primary part of the camp, but the field trip to the Stadium also offers other information, like how to stay healthy.
One of the stations around the ballpark tour focuses on nutrition, specifically how to refuel and what to drink after a long day of practice. Each week, Natalie Rizzo, a nutritionist and volunteer for the American Dairy Association and Dairy Council, provides a brief information session, promoting chocolate milk as a smarter and energy-boosting alternative to soda or sports drinks.
"The whole message of chocolate milk is to refuel," said Rizzo. "It's good for you afterward because it will give you that energy back with the protein and the carbs, and it's natural; it's not a protein shake. Kids do a million different things. They swim, they go outside and play with their friends -- but they don't realize that they're using energy to do that."
Energy was not a problem on Friday, however, even after campers had walked a lap around the Stadium, which included stops in the dugout and a look inside the Yankees Museum. When it came time for interrogating Gardner, the kids were very practical. Questions ranged from tips for running fast to how to hit home runs to what kind of car he drives (a truck). The day ended with pictures and an autographed photo for campers to take home.
"It's always fun to get some of the far-out questions, crazy questions," Gardner said. "[I] always enjoy hearing what they have to say.
"When I was 5-15 years old, I didn't have the opportunity to go to a place like this, obviously, growing up in South Carolina. So these kids, they don't realize how fortunate they are to be able to have parents and friends and family that are able to send them to camp like this."