Story By: Brian Rushing
For most children of the military, being stationed in a faraway place means times of isolation from creature comforts many take for granted. The crack of a bat, the pop of the mitt are sounds that aren't synonymous to those serving abroad.
It was August in Tallahassee, Florida, and the warmer temperatures that surround the panhandle seem to keep baseball at the forefront of the minds of most youth. Larry Tannenbaum and his wife Cindy reside in Stuttgart, Germany and head the Stuttgart American Little League. Their son was like any little leaguer with dreams of playing collegiately in the United States. With little opportunities to compete and no development camps in Stuttgart, this would ordinarily make for a very frustrating time for Ryan. The Tannenbaum's decided to seek the help of a baseball legend on a family trip back to Tallahassee.
An email to Florida State coach Mike Martin would be forwarded to Pete Jenkins, who was then an assistant at the ACC power and is currently an assistant at Belmont Abbey College. In his playing days, Jenkins signed a professional contract with the Milwaukee Brewers after being a standout performer at the University of Nebraska. He answered the email, much to the delight of the Tannenbaums, and Ryan would have a place to play on the mainland during his vacation. Jenkins spent that week fine-tuning Ryan's skills with meticulous detail. The sessions were videotaped as a means for Ryan to aide his development. That dedication to Ryan's improvement resonated with Larry. It prompted Larry to ask Jenkins about the possibility of leading a camp designed to teach kids at the Stuttgart military installation. Jenkins was quick to consider the offer, and made the necessary arrangements to accept the challenge of offering baseball to these military youngsters.
Jenkins is quick to point out how important the role Larry and Cindy play in the progress this camp has made in the early going. "Make no mistake, Larry and Cindy are the reason this camp exists. I was the guy that happened to be in the right place, at the right time."
In its eighth year, the Stuttgart camp consists of a week of baseball activity that serves as a great opportunity for campers to learn at a high level. The staff teaches repeatable mechanics that are continuously honed by a battery of drills. Multiple stations are set up for the kids to get a broad base of skills that help them pinpoint the type of player they desire to be. This method creates a very comfortable learning experience that maximizes the short period of time the staff has while in Stuttgart.
What oftentimes stretches beyond the diamond is the new found sense of baseball camaraderie the campers get from Jenkins and staff. Jenkins has developed a rapport with the campers that Florida State Assistant Coach Mike Martin Jr. says is true to Jenkins coaching character.
"Pete Jenkins is the epitome of what an educator should be. He cares about the well-being of each kid, and those kids are better off having worked under him. Coaches like Pete are truly hard to find."
Joining Jenkins on the trip to Stuttgart is Erik Foor, Brian Hoop and Kyle Buchanan. Foor is making a return trip to Germany, and currently serves as an assistant at Belmont Abbey. Hoop is an instructor at the On Deck Academy in Charlotte and a former assistant with Jenkins at Belmont Abbey. Buchanan played collegiately at Washington State prior to finishing his career at the Benedictine Catholic campus in Belmont.
If playing baseball in November seems problematic enough in North Carolina, imagine playing in conditions that appear more conducive for the Winter Olympics, where the cold stings like that of an errant fastball to the ribs. With lights being an unattainable luxury, the day of instruction is crammed into what sunlight protrudes through the clouds. When bad weather persists, they are relegated to a quaint, unspectacular gymnasium.
The difficult days and less than ideal conditions are a constant reminder of where the German incarnation of the grand old game currently resides. Undeterred, Jenkins and his staff see the value of investing their time to the children of these American heroes. "The men and women of our armed forces sacrifice many things to serve our country. Their kids share in that sacrifice. Knowing what Larry (Tannenbaum) has invested into this little league program, how could I not involve myself in this effort? It's important we bring as much of America to these kids as possible. They must know that we support and appreciate that sacrifice."
A lack of equipment and training aids presents another hurdle that hampers the advancement of baseball in Stuttgart. The countless tools at the disposal of most American baseball academies become distant memories in this more primitive baseball outpost. Jenkins and staff have procured bats, balls and other necessities to ease the pinch at the installation. Despite the lack of resources, this need of instruction is all the more reason for the camps to continue. So much so, the instruction extends beyond the military youth, and now serves the native Germans as well.
With the recent exports that have made their mark, athletically, in the United States, Jenkins sees Germany as a brave new world for mining baseball talent. "Look at other sports. Germany has many, many athletic kids. If these kids were offered a more conducive baseball learning experience, their athleticism would flourish, and we would see more players like Cavan Cohoes make their way through the minors."
Jenkins and his staff will leave the mainland on November7th and return on November 18th. For information on how you can support this country's military youth in Germany, contact Larry Tannenbaum by email: firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone (402) 319- 8132.