OAKLAND (KPIX 5) Tyler Manca fell in love with America’s pastime when he was just four years old.
“I could barely hold the bat,” he explained. “And I remember going home and saying, ‘Dad, I love baseball! I gotta play!'”
Smitten ever since, the senior at Bishop O’Dowd High School in Oakland decided three years ago to share his love of the game by starting Greatest Game Baseball Academy, a free, three-day clinic for boys and girls ages 11 to 14.
“Actually one of the things that helped me found this camp was (knowing) 92% of youth baseball players quit the game before they enter high school,” Manca said.
He believes a big reason many kids give up the game is because they can’t afford to play on expensive club or travel teams, an option for some kids after aging out of little league and before starting high school. That’s why his academy is free.
“They have the same love of the game as me, they have the same talent, but they couldn’t play,” he said.
The academy uses volunteer coaches and Manca’s high school teammates to teach baseball skills to about 50 young players over the course of three Sundays in January.
“Tyler’s the kind of kid that anybody’s going to want to come out and do something for him,” said volunteer coach Jerry Gibbs.
Nearly 150 young players have attended the academy so far. Twelve-year-old Gabrial Mohawk didn’t need much encouragement.
“It”s just always called to me,” he said. “It’s like the field is, like, my house.”
It’s Mohawk’s second year at the academy, the same as for Kaelan Lovan.
“I learned some better ways to catch fly balls, grounders, and help my hitting,” said Lovan.
As for what the academy is teaching Manca…
“I’ve been given the gifts of baseball and these great friends and of travel teams and equipment,” he explained. “It’s shown me that I can’t take what I have for granted and it’s kind of one of my obligations to help give back to the community.”
So for helping young baseball players stay in the sport and nurturing their love of the game, this week’s Jefferson Award in the Bay Area goes to Tyler Manca.