By MIKE SMITH
In 1998, then head coach of the New Rochelle baseball team, Darren Gurney, began a summer camp aimed at fostering a love for the sport of baseball in the area’s youth. Fifteen years later, his Rising Star camp is still going strong, and laying the foundation of fundamentals–and community–for New Rochelle’s aspiring baseball stars.
The Rising Star baseball camp’s curriculum is based mainly off of Gurney’s recently published baseball training book, “Covering All the Bases.” The book, said Gurney—who left the New Rochelle job in 2005 to serve as an assistant coach at Iona College, helps the camp’s instructors follow certain cues as they run drills with Rising Star campers, who range in age from four to 13.
“I think what separates us from other camps in the area is that we’ve got a very personalized coaching staff,” Gurney said. “And our curriculum provides a basis—for coaches, whether their working with pitchers, hitters or fielders.”
But that’s not the main thing that separates Gurney’s camp from others in the area. The operation is distinctly New Rochellean in nature, with current and former Huguenot varsity players—most of whom were at some point campers themselves—something that Gurney feels has boosted New Rochelle’s baseball community for over a decade.
“I think the kids come, they see the coaches, who are current varsity guys, and that inspires them because they want to emulate that,” Gurney said. “That was one of my initial goals when we started, to increase awareness that would filter up to the varsity level.”
In some cases, that step-by-step maturation is personified by one single family. Gurney points to one such family, the Almontes, as an example of exactly what he hoped to accomplish with the Rising Star program. Oldest brother Jared, who completed his first varsity season last year, serves as a coach at the camp, while brothers Matthew, 13, Joseph, 11 and Daniel, 8, all participate in the camp as well. The youngest brother, Gabriel, takes part in the one-hour class offered in the four-to-five age range.
“This is kind of like a metaphor for the camp,” he said. “The Almontes are an exceptional family and this is what we hoped to do, to groom exceptional athletes and have them come back and coach with us.”
Gurney also fosters the spirit of community by taking campers on field trips of a sort, including a July outing to see the Yankees play, and a 2012 jaunt to Citi Field to watch former Rising Star Camper—and now starter for the Miami Marlins‑Tommy Koehler pitch against the Mets.
“I think Tommy stands as an excellent model for others campers to follow, and we take tremendous pride in what he’s done,” Gurney said. “He was someone who worked very hard on his fundamentals and worked in the offseason to get stronger, which is what we hope to see from our players.”