By Will Petersen
For the Courier
The text messages were the evidence that Washington Nationals superstar Bryce Harper legitimately felt bad.
The seventh annual Dakota Ridge baseball camp went off without a hitch last week, attracting more than 100 kids ranging from elementary to high school, but one 20-year-old was missing.
“I tried to make him not feel so bad, but that’s Bryce. He committed and was on his way out here. He was planning on being here but things happen. He feels like he let all the kids down,” Harper’s high school coach at Las Vegas High School, Sam Thomas, said.
By ‘things happen’ Thomas is referring to a nasty collision Harper had with the right-field wall at Dodger Stadium about a month ago that’s sidelined the slugger for the past few weeks. The Nationals played the Rockies June 11-13 in Denver, and Harper was scheduled to speak at the camp that first morning.
Instead of being in Colorado, though, Harper was in Florida visiting Dr. James Andrews to have his knee examined and make sure there wasn’t any more damage than initially thought.
“I said to Bryce it’s part of the deal. This is part of your job. Everyone’s got to understand that and whoever doesn’t understand that is not important to us,” Thomas said.
And understand the campers did. Both Thomas and Dakota Ridge head coach Jeff Legault said they did not hear a single complaint from any of the campers. The general sentiment was all of them were there for the right reasons and not to just try and get a picture or autograph from Harper.
Frankly, the missed photo op should not, and was not, a deal-breaker. Thirteen coaches from around the United States came to the camp including coaches from Utah Valley, UNLV, Pepperdine and, as previously mentioned, Las Vegas High School.
“Over the years I’ve met all these coaches and they’ve all agreed to come out here and bring their expertise. They just want to give back to these kids. They love Dakota Ridge,” Camp founder and Dakota Ridge assistant coach Shane Fugita said.
Cooper Fouts, the camp director and assistant coach at Utah Valley, echoed the thoughts of Fugita and emphasized it’s all about the kids and improving skills during the time together.
“We’ve had so many kids who have been back here three, four or five years in a row. To see these kids from year-to-year getting better playing in high school and some in college is a great thing,” Fouts said.
Jake Starkey was one of those returning campers. He came back for his sixth year at the camp and is getting ready to start his freshman year at Dakota Ridge High School.
“It’s fun. It’s cool that the coaches keep coming back and teaching us stuff. I’ve learned a lot,” Starkey said.
The theme of the week was learning and soaking in all the knowledge the various coaches could teach about the game of baseball. And although hearing Harper talk would’ve been a treat, his absence did not define the camp.
“It was a bummer that he couldn’t be here, but that would’ve just been one fun thing. That was not the point of this camp,” Legault said.