Robert Sapp made his mark coaching college-baseball players.
However, Sapp’s approach to his baseball camp for kids in Richmond Hill last week wasn’t much different from the methods he used in his years coaching at Middle Georgia College and the University of Georgia.
“It’s still the same because I really believe in fundamentals,” Sapp said on the final day of camp. “Fundamentals in baseball are pretty much the same if you’re 9 years old or if you’re 18 years old.”
So, each morning of the five-day camp was devoted to the players practicing the basics of hitting, pitching, fielding and base running. Only after that effort was put in did the 90 players — ranging from 7 to 14 years old — play organized games in the afternoon.
“Travel ball has them caught up in wanting to play four or five games on the weekend,” Sapp said. “So there’s not as much emphasis put on the fundamentals of the game, especially when they’re young. Even the better players still have some things they can improve on.”
No trophies were given to the teams that won the most games during the week. Only two trophies were presented Friday in each age group — the hustle award and most-improved award.
The emphasis on enjoying baseball and playing the game the right way left a lasting impression on Fisher Avery, 11, after he attended the camp for the first time last year.
“This is where I fell in love with baseball and wanted to play,” said Avery, a rising sixth-grader at Richmond Hill Middle School. “I came last year and I liked it so much, I started playing baseball.”
As much as Sapp loves baseball, he stressed to the campers that it can’t be their only focus. He stated that players “all want scholarships” nowadays — again alluding to the influence of travel baseball — but he preached the importance of making academics a higher priority than athletics.
Division I college baseball programs are allotted only 11.7 scholarships to divide among the entire team. Sapp stated that the scholarship most commonly given to the state’s college baseball players is the HOPE Scholarship, available to Georgia high-school students who graduate with at least a 3.0 grade-point average.
“If you can get that HOPE Scholarship, you’ve got a 25-, 30-percent scholarship. That’s a good baseball scholarship,” Sapp said. “They need to start preparing for high-school academics just like they would getting ready for high-school baseball. You have to get your background behind you in elementary and middle school before you get to high school.”
The campers were at Richmond Hill Park from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. each day. Sapp was impressed by the dedication they showed in the summer heat.
“I have to admire these kids,” he said. “This is something that’s unusual for them to have to be out here six hours a day in the heat like this. So you’re teaching them some toughness, too.”
Sapp last coached collegiately in 1999, the final of his three seasons in the Georgia Bulldogs’ dugout. Prior to that, he coached Middle Georgia for 20 years and won four junior-college national championships.
At 74 years old, Sapp is in his 35th summer conducting baseball camps across Georgia. He is assisted by baseball coaches from throughout the state.
“I still enjoy it,” Sapp said. “A lot of people wonder, ‘Why are you still doing this?’ We still enjoy working with the kids.”