Interview with Tim Rappé

My interview with Tim Rappé, executive director of Reds’ youth baseball and softball camps.

What was the purpose of the Reds starting up a camp like this?

Rappé: “Well…we’re part of the Reds Community Fund, and the Reds Community Fund has done for years a remarkable job with bringing baseball training to the urban community. But where we were lacking was really in bringing baseball training to the general part…to Mason, to Dublin, to Lexington, to Louisville and that’s why we created this, to really fulfill our mission of helping raise the…baseball acumen and softball too of kids throughout Reds country. So it’s a perfect fit for what we’ve been doing…and it actually fills a big void.”

Does it benefit the Reds Organization?

Rappé: “Financially, no… but at least from a long term perspective, the Castellini family made a commitment when they took over to really change the…culture of youth baseball, which Cincinnati is already a spectacular baseball town, but the Reds didn’t play that big a role in it, so they made it part of their mission to dedicate the Reds Community Fund to the baseball and softball education of kids throughout Reds country. And hopefully the payoff is that if they’re not Reds fans they become Reds fans, and if they are they stay Reds fans by having this…page in their memory book that we hope will last the rest of their lives.”

So you’re not here to look at potential players or anything in that sort of sense?

Rappé: “No, not in the slightest…We are a camp of inclusion and not exclusion. We try to get anybody who loves the Reds and…wants to learn how to play baseball. The only place we really draw the line…is a young athlete who really isn’t playing and doesn’t [want to] play, they just [want to] come for autographs. They’re not gonna find this a good place for them because we teach. I mean, that little hitting clinic I just did right there is hard enough with baseball players, with non-baseball players [we’re] gonna bore them to tears, so that’s really where we draw the line. We don’t have a talent detector at the…entrance [that says] if you don’t rate a certain number you can’t play.”

Since you’re a professional organization, you coach professional athletes, how are you able to relate to young kids?

Rappé: “I think…that’s actually more of what we do. Most of these guys [camp coaches] here are private instructors, high school coaches, college players, college coaches, so in fact…this is what they do for a living. They are in the business of instructing kids at a variety of levels, many of them off-season run their own clinics, so…I like to think we have the knowledge to teach at any level, but we combine that with the…the real life experience of teaching at younger levels all the time, so this is not…new for us.”

So besides technical baseball skills, like I saw in the video, how else does it benefit the kids?

Rappé: “Well, we have them for thirty hours. A lot of things happen in thirty hours and they’re not all baseball…You get to know you’re teammates and coaches pretty well over the course of this week. And…tempers can flare or feelings can be hurt, you’re talking about sometimes [6,7, and 8] year olds…if they lose the game 18-17, they’re crying, everybody’s crying [laughs]. There are plenty of opportunities for us to deliver other messages that…baseball is the carrier, baseball is the medium through which we can communicate those things, but by no means is just about baseball. That’s part of what we do almost every morning and every evening when we get together. And sometimes situations arise that require an impromptu conversation about proper [behavior]…we care a lot more about you as a teammate than as a baseball player, so let’s be a good teammate first then work on the baseball skills and I think that’s what parents would appreciate[because] we stand in front of these kids in uniform, so we have an opportunity to share with them a different view of our game, one that they’re not necessarily seeing on Sports Center at night or reading in the newspapers, but…hats are put on forwards…we do ask kids to tuck their jerseys in, and we’re pretty straightforward. Our message is “Old as the hills and as contemporary as tomorrow” and that’s about respecting this game and having respect for…yourself and the kids around you and acting accordingly…that’s [the] important message—and baseball can help [teach] that.”

There are different levels of kids, from six year olds to fourteen year olds. How are you able to group together and coach them with so many different ages and abilities?

Rappé: “Well the first thing we do is, all these kids are assigned a different team on Monday morning. The team is according to their grade level, and granted there can be some…very disparate abilities within grade levels, it’s a pretty good starting point…And they stay with that team, Team Votto, Team Bruce, Team Choo, and they’ll stay with that team the entire week. So they’ll bond as a group, they move from [training] station to station…eat lunch together, they’ll ride the bus to Great American Ballpark tomorrow together. And…now the artistry is that team leader’s ability to figure out how to…massage the message for those disparate abilities. Those ages are pretty much the same, we might mix 2nd and 3rd graders and 4th and 5th graders but they’re pretty much the same.”

Can you tell the Bumblebee story again?

Rappé: “The Bumblebee story deals with, when after all is said and done, and we’ve talked proper mechanics till we’re blue in the face, it really doesn’t come together. That was in my hitting presentation, the secret sauce that I was telling kids about….it really doesn’t come together until the athlete believes and really believes in himself. And in fact it can work the other way, that the athlete that doesn’t have proper mechanics, but has this undeniable refusal to be denied, will often outperform the better athlete. And the bumblebee story is that all the scientific evidence would indicate the bumblebee, because of its big body and little tiny wings, cannot fly. And so I use that to spring into, that there are gonna be times in your life when people are gonna say to you, ‘you can’t fly,’ [or] ‘you’re not gonna be able to do something that you want because you’re ‘too something’ or ‘not enough of something.’ And you need to have a little bit of the bumblebee in you at that point…and either not hear them or tell ‘em to buzz off because if it’s important to you, you do it anyway. That’s the bumblebee story.”

And with that, we ended our interview, similar to the way Tim ends the Reds youth camps every year—by daring everyone to dream bigger and aim higher with the tale of a creature that defies scientific odds.

*Read my story on the Reds youth camps:

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