Malibu summer baseball camp a grand slam for local youth

Coach Ari Jacobs (standing, top right) and his summer campers 

Swing. Whack. Swing. Another whack. And then another whack followed by another. For six-year-old Luke Nizam, it was the equivalent of a big leaguer stepping into the batting cage before a game and knocking the leather off the ball. In this case, Nizam was hitting whiffle balls for the very first time. 

At the City of Malibu’s summer baseball camp, held last week at Malibu High School for ages five to 11, Nizam and nine other campers got an early taste of baseball and its fundamentals under the tutelage of Malibu High School varsity baseball coach Ari Jacobs. 

During a session with Jacobs tossing whiffle balls underhand, Nizam went from swinging and missing on multiple occasions to pinging the whiffle balls all over the field. After his round of batting practice, Nizam walked away with a smile of satisfaction. 

Jacobs referred to it as a “light bulb moment.” 

“As an educator and coach, that’s the moment that we live for. That light bulb moment. They happen enough to keep me going,” Jacobs said. “They don’t happen every minute of every day, but in a camp like this they happen almost every second. It happens so much in a summer camp-type of setting.” 

Nizam, a first-grader at Red Oak Elementary School in Oak Park, had no trouble explaining his love of baseball after his session of soft toss. 

“I like hitting because you can hit home runs and grand slams,” Nizam said. 

Like Nizam, many of the campers had their moment in the sun. Jacobs taught the campers the basic fundamentals of hitting, catching and fielding. When asked what they had learned at the four-day camp, several campers provided different answers. 

“I learned that you have to bring all your stuff for baseball,” said Sarah Jacobs, six, daughter of Ari. “You have to bring all your equipment, but if you don’t it is OK because then we could just share.” 

“I learned that you must come to the ball to catch the ball instead of backpedaling,” said seven-year-old Makai Moody, who attends Point Dume Elementary School here in town. 

Even Nizam tried to do his best describing what he learned on the art of fielding a groundball.

“I learned the triangle. It’s when you put your feet out and do this,” Nizam said as he positioned his feet a foot apart, squatted and lowered his glove to the dirt, “and get the ball.” 

The roots of baseball are grounded into children at a very young age. One minute they are learning how to stride and hit a ball with balance and accuracy. The next minute they could be the game’s next great superstar. 

“This is great,” Jacobs said. “It’s never too early to plant the seeds of baseball, and if you can keep it in the context of having fun and positive then you get great results. 

“It is such a joy for me and especially having my daughter here makes it extra special.” 

The young players all had their favorite big league teams, of which there are five in California. In a survey of the 10 campers, more than half said they liked the Dodgers. The Padres, Giants and As also received votes. As for their favorite player, Matt Kemp of the Dodgers took top billing. 

“He’s a good player and [he’s] done well. He’s had some bad times but he still is good,” explained Luke’s 11-year-old big brother, James. 

Sarah Jacobs shared her feelings on her favorite Dodger and it wasn’t Kemp. 

“I like A.J. Ellis because he’s pretty,” she said with a smile. 

When it was all said and done, the campers walked away knowing they had learned more than they knew when they first arrived. 

“I’ve improved my swings, my throws and my catches,” James Nizam said. 

Jacobs ended each day reviewing what they had learned and preaching the same message. 

“You can get better at anything in the world if you put your mind to it and work hard. That’s the secret to doing anything in life. To watch them get better by the minute is incredible. They learn that all you have to do is take something a little bit seriously, work at it and you get better,” Jacobs explained. “I also emphasized the entire time that this is a team sport. If they can buy into a team concept at this age, it’s giant on so many fronts.” 

As for Luke Nizam, keep an eye out for him in the 2033 MLB All-Star game.