WIESBADEN, Germany – An engineer who oversees military construction for a living is pitching in to help build a local youth baseball association – from the ground up.
Stephen Swint, a U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Europe District project manager, just wrapped up his first stint as an assistant coach with the Wiesbaden Red Barons Baseball Club, a startup program for American and German players. The nonprofit organization fielded teams at the under-16 and under-14 age divisions this past spring for its inaugural season, which featured games against other European clubs and culminated in the Ramstein Rumble tournament last month.
In March, Swint helped get the charter off the ground by serving as the club’s preseason baseball camp director. He organized and planned the entire event, even bringing in professional players and scouts to provide top-level instruction. About 50 kids attended the three-day session.
Dennis Swafford formed the Red Barons last fall and managed the under-16 squad this year. Swint, meanwhile, assisted head coach Kevin King with the younger boys.
“Founding a club like this required a lot of organizational time, and we’ve been lucky to have several community volunteers step forward in various capacities as board members, fundraisers, travel coordinators and coaches. Stephen Swint is one of the club coaches who generously stepped forward to make the program possible,” said Swafford, who works for Defense Contract Management Agency Europe in Wiesbaden as a DOD civilian.
“Living overseas is tough for the children of military personnel, and often these kids lose out on things ordinary American kids take for granted. Cuts to military budgets seem to negatively impact youth sports programs more and more each year. For boys interested in keeping up with their stateside peers and competitive baseball, the extra effort of volunteers like Stephen makes that possible.”
Swint grew up in the YMCA ranks and also played high school baseball in Shawnee, Oklahoma. His transition to coaching coincides with his son, Paydan, taking up the sport in T-ball.
“My son started playing when he was 5, and I’ve coached teams in Oklahoma and Texas,” he said. “I really enjoy seeing the boys grow and develop mentally both on and off the field. While a certain level of athleticism is required, the greatest impact is made in the mental game.
“I like to focus on work ethic, desire for success and when you make a mistake, learn from it and move on. One of my sayings in the team huddle is, ‘Think you can, think you can’t, either way you’re right.’”
Interacting with German youth and seeing how they play the game presented a few new wrinkles, Swint said, but some unique exchanges as well.
“One of the most interesting things I found in playing against other German teams is the language of baseball is international,” he added. “While my German language skills are probably not as good as others, we all know a good pitch, a strong hit, a great play at first, and that there’s nothing better than a baseball game on a sunny afternoon.
“One of the funniest things I learned was that a baseball glove in German is called a baseball Handschuh.”
Off the clock, the district project manager actually performed double duty this spring. He also was an assistant coach for a Child and Youth Services team at U.S. Army Garrison Wiesbaden.
At the lower age group, the Red Barons and Wiesbaden CYS club played about a dozen games each. Swint says many kids appeared on both rosters, including Paydan, a left fielder and third baseman.
“Ideally, the boys will play as many games as possible with the Red Barons, but it’ll vary from season to season,” he said. “The intent is to develop each player through healthy competition and allow the boys to keep playing even after the regular season with CYS has ended.”
The Red Barons Baseball Club played home games on separate fields at Clay Kaserne. While it developed solid relationships with European counterparts in 2015, adequate funding remains a concern in order to continue paying for equipment, umpires and travel expenses, Swafford said.
Still, he says the burgeoning youth outfit is hopeful of obtaining access to an indoor facility in the Wiesbaden area for offseason work. Around Germany, some clubs play fall and winter seasons using a softer-shell baseball on makeshift “fields” set up in local gyms.
The Red Barons might also add an under-18 baseball team or expand to a parallel girls softball program next year, if they can generate enough interest, their founder said.
“We're optimistic we can meet our goals going forward,” said Swafford, who guided the under-16 club to the Ramstein Rumble title in a five-team field. “Our objective is to have the Red Barons Baseball Club be comparable to a top travel program in the United States, playing high-quality teams and providing expert instruction for Wiesbaden military youth.”
Swint plans to stay involved, too. No dates have been set, but he said more instructional camps are possible this summer on Clay Kaserne, perhaps in August and September.
As a coach, the chance to mold young minds, build teamwork and develop leaders is part of what keeps him coming back, he added.
“Kids surprise me every day,” Swint said. “When you put experienced players with lesser-experienced players, great things can happen. I’ve seen lesser-experienced kids play up to a level that they themselves didn’t know they could. It’s that drive in them to get better that you can’t teach.
“I also see the natural leaders rise to the occasion. When I see that, I like to acknowledge and encourage them to continue that behavior. … At the end of the day, when I see the boys show up ready for practice or hear that they are upset if we get rained out, that means I’m doing my job right.”
For more information about the Red Barons Baseball Club or to inquire about registration and volunteer opportunities, send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.