By Dan Walton
Oliver has become a fountain of baseball knowledge since it has turned into the home of the Big League Experience (BLE).
“Kids want to come here to learn from the best,” says Big League Experience coordinator Carolyn Bell. “We recruit coaches from international and national teams.”
The BLE ran its annual Okanagan Softball Camp for young girls recently. The BLE continues in Oliver throughout the month of August with a new schedule and age group each week.
The BLE has a tradition of excellence and countless youngsters of all age levels have improved their baseball skills in the 20 years the baseball camp has been running in Oliver. The BLE baseball camps are one of the longest running in North America. The summer camp has been in existence since 1960 and is under the leadership of Marty Lehn (a former Canadian Olympic team coach and Major League Baseball scout), and former Boston Red Sox and Colorado Rockies player, Colin Dixon. They have been offering a summer softball camp in Oliver for male and female players for the past several years.
In addition to summer baseball camps, the Big League Experience hosts travel events and quality baseball tournaments as well as offering player/coach clinics during the year.
Long before Bell became the head of the program – and in order to reach the top – she spent her childhood summers training as a BLE camper, which helped her gain the skills and wisdom she needed to become a coach in later years, before finally taking over as program coordinator.
“I’ve learned from the people ahead of me and I try to pass down all the things that I’ve learned,” she said. “It’s all about making new friends, falling in love with the game again, and having fun playing softball in a beautiful setting.”
A day may come when Bell no longer runs the show, but she’s hopeful that the next generation of leaders are in the works of being properly trained and inspired. “You learn to become committed and dedicated,” she said. “Softball is a game of failure – it teaches you how to be tough and overcome adversity, yet have that feeling of success. It’s a game that always challenges you. Overall, it makes you a better person.”
But well beyond the need for players to perfect their swings or throws, BLE is about making friendships that last a lifetime. And Bell can attest to that – her wedding took place over the past year, and her bridesmaid was a ball player she met years ago in Oliver as a fellow camper.
“You leave here a better ball player and you establish relationships that last your whole life.”
One of the players to hone her skills this year was 12-year-old Isabella Green from Okanagan Falls. She returned to BLE for her second summer, and this year she brought her sister too.
“We were looking for camps to go to because it was my first year on a rep team,” Isabella said, adding that she introduced her sister to the good friends she met last year. I really like all the kids that came and how organized it was. We learned a lot of stuff.”
Isabella, who plays for the Penticton Thunder, said catching and fielding were the areas she was working hardest to improve. And living just 15 minutes up Highway 97, the Green sisters likely had the easiest commute to Oliver of all the campers.
“There are a lot of people that come from a long ways away,” Isabella said. “There’s one girl that drove 15 hours to get here.”