Baseball clinic is a big hit

PlayBall-for-All founder Bob Barasch of Weston gives a few batting pointers to a participant at a free baseball clinic at The Factory in Norwalk on March 4. Volunteer coaches and teen mentors from Weston Little League gave three hours of instruction on fielding, throwing and batting.

Sometimes providing a child an opportunity to try something new can be life-changing. Such was the case for 11-year-old Alejandro (name changed) who, prior to participating in a free baseball clinic at Norwalk’s The Factory earlier this month, had never learned how to properly swing a baseball bat.  

Alejandro was one of 19 Norwalk children, ages 11-13, who participated in a free baseball clinic on March 4 sponsored by Weston’s PlayBall-for-All, Norwalk’s The Factory (previously known as the Batter’s Box), and the nonprofit Child Guidance Center of Mid-Fairfield County. Led by PlayBall-for-All founder Bob Barasch, volunteer coaches and teen mentors from Weston Little League provided the youngsters with three hours of instruction on fielding, throwing and batting.

Weston residents Roy Berger, CEO of the Child Guidance center, Veronica Sandolo, owner of The Factory, and coaches Barasch and Brian Haberman were assisted by youth peer mentors Luke Dionian, Will Berger, Noah Haberman, Luke Barasch, and Matthew Schreder at the event.

For some kids it was an opportunity to hone their baseball skills. For others, it was their first real introduction to the game.

Barasch founded PlayBall-for-All in 2016 to provide underserved children the opportunity to experience and enjoy the game of baseball. He promotes the sport as an effective way to help children develop mental focus and discipline, and as a way to clear their minds from everyday distractions — especially for children struggling with emotional or behavioral challenges. After years of coaching youth baseball in Weston, Barasch wanted to bring these benefits to children who might not otherwise have the opportunity.

“I’ve seen over and over how powerful it can be for a kid to catch a pop-up or hit a ball for the first time,” said Barasch. “For some kids, it can be life-changing.”

And there is science behind his philosophy. Numerous studies have been published linking sports participation with improved mental health, improved social skills, and multiple physical health benefits.

After practicing his swing under the guidance of a clinic coach, it was time for Alejandro to step into the beginners batting cage — one of the many cages offered at The Factory. Nervous at first, Alejandro stood motionless and watched the first few balls from the pitching machine whiz by and hit the backstop with a loud thud. He looked at the line of kids waiting to use the cage and said, “I got this.”

Then he swung and ripped a line drive to the back of the cage. After that he did not miss. Satisfied, he graduated to a faster batting cage and missed only one out of 20 pitches. He beamed with pride. It turned out that 11-year-old Alejandro was a natural hitter, something neither he nor anyone else had known.

“As the largest provider of children’s mental health services in the greater Norwalk/Westport area, we fully appreciate how engaging in group sports can have a profound and positive impact on children struggling with emotional and behavioral challenges,” said Berger. “We are extremely grateful to Coach Barasch and The Factory for generously donating their time, baseball expertise, and first-class training facilities to provide these children a meaningful experience they won’t soon forget.”

After three hours of training, capped off with free hot dogs and pizza, it was time for the kids to go home. No one wanted to leave. They all craved more time in the batting cages, or an opportunity to field even more grounders, especially Alejandro.

“I love this game,” he said. “I’m gonna play in the majors someday.”

Barasch smiled.  “He just might.”

Established in 1956, the nonprofit Child Guidance Center of Mid-Fairfield County is the largest provider of children’s mental health services in the region. Each year the center’s team of psychiatrists, psychologists and clinical therapists provide evidence-based mental health therapies to more than 600 children and 1,500 family members who live in Norwalk, Westport, Weston, Wilton, New Canaan, and Darien.

Located in Norwalk, Child Guidance Center provides services in both English and Spanish that are available to all families, regardless of their ability to pay. For more information about the Child Guidance Center of Mid-Fairfield County, visit www.childguidancemfct.org or call Marissa Mangold at 203-299-1315.

The Factory is a multi-sport facility dedicated to helping everyone achieve their own personal goals and be their best. By developing good habits and learning the fundamentals and mechanics, participants gain the building blocks needed to achieve anything.

Sports help people gain confidence and positive relationships through good sportsmanship and teamwork. Participating in a sport requires social skills, discipline and commitment, which translate into success at every level.  

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