Baseball and Faith Offered at Camp

Published 5:36 pm Friday, January 9, 2009

Children who attend the camps at Baseball Country near Ralph, Ala. get plenty of teaching on the diamond and lots of one-on-one attention that helps them improve their game, but thats not the chief mission of Kenny Burns and his staff. Along with all the instructions in baseball, helping campers fine-tune their skills, they receive guidance in leadership, integrity and unselfishness based on the teachings of Christ.

In fact, its the mission work more than baseball techniques that set this camp apart. Burns started the enterprise in 1995 on 51 acres at his family home, while still teaching and serving as head baseball coach at Tuscaloosa County High School. His experience as a player, coach and camp director combine to a virtually entire lifetime of baseball.

About 6,000 youngsters a year are now coming to various camps provided at Burns home and campsite. He not only built one field of dreams, but two. Corn surrounds both his baseball diamonds as the outfield boundaries, similar to the movie. Wiggly Field is the smaller of the two and allows players ages 7 to 10 a chance to hit deep into the corn. Corniskey Park, the larger baseball field, is for the campers ages 11 and up.

Small groups of campers, no more than 24 per camp, are drawn to the Burns property that provides professional baseball player instructors like Lee Evans, a fourth round Pittsburg draft choice in 1996, and Andy Phillips, who recently signed as an infielder for the Pirates.

Phillips said his passion is helping to make a difference in the lives of these children. While some big names come to help with baseball camp, the most satisfying part of the program, he said, is watching these children develop confidence not only in their ability on the field, but their relationship with God.

Its literally a field of dreams, Phillips said. These kids come to camp and they dont want to leave. A particular camp that excites him is the one the team does for underprivileged children. These children have nothing, he said. They show up without shoes or gloves. We take the equipment and teach them (baseball), but we are also sharing our love of Christ. We can teach baseball, but if thats all were doing its not enough. For me its about helping the kids.

Lee agrees that baseball lessons arent enough for the children involved in Baseball Country. Ive seen what God has done through Baseball Country, he said. Its great when we see the children learning about baseball, but when a child comes up to me and says, Ive accepted Jesus Christ today, that is huge.

As part of the mission, this non-profit agency spends a lot of time raising funds for the underprivileged children who attend camps or who participate in underserved areas like Eutaw in Greene County. The organization hosts various fundraisers such as an annual golf tournament. The funds from that go directly to providing the money to allow children, who might not be able to participate in the program, to gain the skills for baseball, and more importantly, to be touched by Christian fellowship and teachings.

Burns said that while 90 percent of each day at camp is devoted to baseball, the children also get to enjoy games, go fishing or watch a baseball movie on the field. Campers also keep a journal with tips and knowledge gained during the camp. After supper, small huddle groups meet together with a coach for Bible study. Our campers consider this as the highlight of the camp, Burns says in the online literature provided by his website at www.baseballcountry.com.

Camps are now run year round, since Burns has retired from teaching and retained a full time staff. Those camps include fast pitch for girls, father/son camps, high school camps, weekend camps, spring break camps, summer camps, winter camps and others. For more information or to sponsor an underprivileged child, contact Burns or his staff at 205-333-8393 or visit his web site.