The Annual Phil Bova Baseball Camp

Bova, baseball and brotherhood

By: Jack Kopanski, West Life News


 

WESTLAKE – The ominous grey clouds and the threat of rain last week didn’t deter the

coaches and campers at the Phil Bova Baseball Camp. For the 45th straight year, Bova stood in

front of 180 kids between the ages of 7 and 14 at the Westlake Recreation Center, and held up

a sign reading “Enthusiasm is Contagious,” a mantra the former collegiate referee has adapted

when working with the kids at his camp.

 

From the get-go, Bova let all the campers know that while they were there to learn about the

game of baseball, it was deeper than that.


“From this point on, we are Bova Baseball,” Bova told the campers Monday on the first day of

camp. “We are family. You’re going to learn more about baseball than you could imagine. That I

guarantee you.”

 

As the campers split out between five stations, each focused on a different set of fundamental

baseball skills, the enthusiasm truly was contagious. Coaches were encouraging and cheering

on the campers as they perfected the dances from the popular video game Fortnite on the sideline, and

celebrated over laying down the perfect bunt.

 

Whether a camper was holding a bat for the first time, or using the camp as way to take their

game to the next level, these fundamentals were the key to everything Bova and his staff taught

during the week. Bunting, hitting, fielding, baserunning and pitching are broken down bit-by-bit,

and are done so the skills can be grasped by all.

 

“We’re teaching the 7- and 8-year-olds the same way we’re teaching the 13- and 14-year-olds,”

Tommy Carosielli, a coach at the Bova Baseball Camp, said. “It’s nice because you can put in

more concepts (with the older kids). I look forward to this every year. It’s just an awesome group

of guys, and it’s a real good mix of old school and new school.”

 

It’s this mix of ages and play styles that Carosielli said he enjoys the most about the camp; the

ability to give back to the younger campers, while also continuing his own baseball education

from the older coaches, many of whom spent time as college players or coaches.

 

“When Phil says we’ve got 200 years of experience out here, he’s not kidding,” David Kuhn,

Bova’s assistant director, said. “Here you have college guys and college players that came up

through our camp originally, then they became counselors and there are a few that became

coaches. They learned the fundamentals all the way through.

 

“The fundamentals are the game,” Kuhn continued. “The better you know the fundamentals, you

put them together and you become a team where everybody works in the same direction. Here,

we don’t worry about the game as much as we worry about the fundamentals. These kids will

get probably 200-300 swings over the course of the week.”

 

As the camp has gone on for so long, there have been instances where a child who is a camper

had their father, or possibly even grandfather, take part in the camp years ago. One of those

generational campers is Joe Kilburg Jr., whose father, Joe Sr., is a current coach at the camp.


Kilburg Jr. made his way through the college ranks at Stanford, culminating with being drafted in

1997. Though he never made an MLB roster, he said he took the lessons he learned at the

Bova camp throughout his career.

 

“Fundamentally, the things that I was taught at that camp, stayed with me my entire career,”

Kilburg said. “I learned how to slide correctly when I was five or six years old. I probably did it a

million times from the time I learned it, to when I retired from baseball. So did it have a positive

effect on my career? Absolutely. All the things in that camp are covered in a way that you not

only learn it, but learn it while having fun.”

 

Kilburg Sr., who has coached the camp for 43 of the 45 years Bova has been at the helm, said

he loves coming back every single day.

 

“This is heaven,” Kilburg Sr. said. “That’s part of the enthusiasm thing that Phil always talks

about. When they see you smile, they go, “Oh, I must have done something good.’ and a lot of

times that’s really what it takes more than anything. The little kids are so good, they’re so much

fun.”

 

Perhaps one of the most impressive things about the camp was the manner in which these 60-

and 70-year-old men were coaching and interacting with the kids. They were able to speak

plainly and directly to them, pointing out what was being done wrong and what needed

improvement, without ever coming across condescending or patronizing.

 

“We talk about that, we share that with all of our coaches. All of our coaches are professional

people,” Bova said. “They all have children. I don’t have a problem with a coach raising (their

voice) at a kid, I just don’t want them to belittle him or demean him in any way.”

 

When the kids picked up on the lessons that the coaches were implementing, the excitement

was obvious with both the camper and the coach. With Kilburg Sr. grinning ear-to-ear and high-

fiving kids after properly fielding and throwing a ground ball, and the kids bragging amongst

each other, debating over who did it better.

 

When it came time to wrap up the week last Friday, the show rolled on, as Bova took all 180

kids inside the rec center for fear of rain, and ran the day of camp as usual. Inviting all the

campers parents and filling half of the basketball court, Bova recognized the campers,

counselors and the camps annual men and women of the years.

 

“It’s a little bit more confined, but it radiates enthusiasm.” Bova said. “It’s just a positive

experience, the kids love it, the parents can sense that this is really cool. We do it to improve

children.

 

Along with that, Bova was honored with a proclamation from the Westlake Mayor, declaring June

22, 2018 to be Bova Baseball Camp Day.

 

“To be recognized by an entire city, I’m proud of that because that's where I live,” Bova said. “It

was an honor. It was just an honor to be able to do what we did today and I’m just thrilled that

everyone went home very well-satisfied.”