Securing the love of baseball for military children living abroad

Published July 26, 2016


It’s as American as hot dogs and apple pie.

Photo: Diamond's Elite baseball camp at U.S. Army Garrison Lucius D. Clay Kaserne in Wiesbaden, Germany, July 22, 2016. (U.S. Army photo by Sarah Gross)

For children of American service members living abroad, however, this concept may seem a little foreign.

While Department of Defense Education Activity schools overseas do have baseball teams, students may not have access to advanced instruction, appropriate resources, or social opportunities outside of school that revolve around the sport.

Diamond’s Elite baseball camp was able to fill this gap and bring a taste of home to nearly 40 American students attending various DoDEA Europe schools.

The camp, sponsored by Installation Management Command Europe, was held free of charge July 18 – 22, 2016, in Wiesbaden, Germany, and brought together students ages 13 to 17 with a passion for baseball from seven U.S. Army garrisons in Germany; one in Brussels; and one in Vicenza, Italy.

This camp was the brainchild of Lionel Chattelle, Army veteran, and security specialist for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Europe District. This district provides engineering support to more than 50 countries throughout Europe and Africa, with projects including missile defense and DoDEA school construction.

Chattelle coaches all aspects of the game and also served for 12 years as an international scout and clinic coach for the New York Mets and Toronto Blue Jays. He played ball at Eastern Connecticut State University and in an independent league in Connecticut.

Photo: Diamond's Elite baseball camp developer and camp coach Lionel Chattelle, clinic coach and former international scout for New York Mets and Toronto Blue Jays and security specialist for U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Europe District, helps to train the camp's softball attendees at U.S. Army Garrison Lucius D. Clay Kaserne in Wiesbaden, Germany, July 22, 2016. (U.S. Army photo by Sarah Gross)

During Diamond’s Elite baseball camp, students scrimmaged and rotated among different tailored learning stations, all while receiving personal attention from an experienced coaching staff.

“My goal is to advance their skill set and love of the game,” said Chattelle.

While Chattelle has put together several baseball camps in Europe for American military kids before, this one was different.

“This camp was unique because of the heavy-hitting staff I brought aboard,” said Chattelle.

Through his vast network of contacts in baseball, Chattelle’s coaching team included Dallas Burke, catching and hitting instructor at Black Hawk College in Illinois; Dave Bush, 2nd round draft pick for the Toronto Blue Jays who pitched in the big leagues for nine years with the Jays and the Milwaukee Brewers; Gene Grimaldi, international scout and clinic coach for multiple MLB teams for more than 40 years; Bill Holmberg, director of the MLB Italian Baseball Academy and coach for the Italian National Baseball Team and Italy World Baseball Classic; Pete Kiefer, owner of Developing Baseball International, which develops youth, as well as major and minor league players at his facility in Connecticut; and Paul Weaver, former director of scouting and development, and special assistant to the general manager for the Chicago Cubs.

Each student left camp with an official scouting report and implementable training tools to enhance their skills, according to Chattelle.

“These kids receive six months of instruction in four days,” said Weaver.

Photo: Diamond's Elite baseball camp at U.S. Army Garrison Lucius D. Clay Kaserne in Wiesbaden, Germany, July 22, 2016. (U.S. Army photo by Sarah Gross)

Though the camp was advertised as a baseball camp, both boys and girls attended, ready to further develop their baseball and softball skills, respectively.

“I learned a lot of conditioning skills during this camp,” said Skylar Lotomau, Wiesbaden High School softball left fielder.

Lotomau hopes to play ball in college.

Stuttgart High School baseball catcher Kale Hynes, son of a specialist working at Defense Information Systems Agency – Europe, hopes to one day be in the majors.

When asked about his experiences at camp, Hynes had so much to say, he couldn’t seem to put it all into words.

“The coaches fixed my swing,” he said. “The coaches are really good, and they worked with every one, individually. I could say a lot, and I would encourage players to come to this camp, if it’s offered again.”

Chattelle hopes Diamond’s Elite is more than just “offered again.” He wants it to be an annual event.

The players and their parents shared his sentiment.

Amber Pickering, wife of a U.S. Navy pilot and mother to two Diamond’s Elite players, tearfully addressed the coaches during the closing ceremony.

“Thanks for everything you’ve done,” she said. “The kids don’t have this here. When can we do it again?”

It’s very obvious to Chattelle why this camp is sorely needed.

“People are sacrificing their lives for our country,” he said. “All I want is for the game of baseball for American kids living in Europe to go from just an activity to an actual developmental program, so they have the same opportunity as their American peers to pursue a baseball or softball scholarship or become a professional player.”