May 8, 2024
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May 8, 2024
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Seth Bendian’s Baseball Camp Celebrates 35 Years in Teaneck

By Zack Schrieber

Greenberg. Koufax. Schrieber?

That was the dream. I can only imagine that there have been thousands like me, pretending in the backyard to be the next Jewish star of professional baseball. And with Orthodox Jews reaching previously untouched heights of collegiate athletics and professional sports achievements in the last couple years, that dream now seems as tangible as ever.

But before that, there was Seth Bendian’s Baseball Camp. The camp, which I attended in grade school and then worked as a counselor and instructor in high school and parts of college, is celebrating its 35th consecutive year of operations this August.

“It’s hard to believe that I’ve been lucky enough to keep my camp going for three and a half decades,” Bendian said of his camp. “I just started out trying to recreate the atmosphere my friends and I shared in the carefree summers of my youth, when we would just all show up at our local field with our gloves and bats and play ball for hours. No uniforms, no umpires, no set teams, no parents yelling at anyone. It was pure love of the game.”

Bendian was born and raised in Teaneck, graduating from Teaneck High School in 1987. In high school, he was a star shortstop and, at the time of his graduation, had broken school records for single-season and career in both home runs and RBI. Both records stood for more than 20 years. After graduation, he went on to study political science at Gettysburg College, where he lettered in football for two years and baseball for four years. He finished his baseball career holding all-time records in hits, runs and stolen-bases, and was inducted into the school’s Hall of Athletic Honor three years ago.

After graduation, Bendian taught history and coached baseball and football at Paramus Catholic HS, but wanted to bring the gift of baseball to young kids in his hometown. His plan was simple, make baseball fun and engaging so kids would build a lifelong love for the game and learn valuable life skills along the way. And over the years he has done that extremely well. He started his camp in 1989 and has been open every summer since.

The model for the camp has stayed relatively consistent over the years. The day opens with some light stretching and then moves into about two hours of instruction led by local high school teachers and sports-coaches in Bergen County. Campers learn proper base-running technique, how to hit an inside fastball or an outside curve, field a ground-ball in the hole or a fly-ball to the wall and every other skill imaginable a young baseball player needs. The afternoon consists of two baseball games, where campers are able to gain valuable experience in a variety of baseball scenarios. Counselors are encouraged to rotate players of all ages and skill-sets through the lineup and positions on the field (except for pitcher and catcher, for safety reasons) so each camper gets a turn to try a new position and a chance to bat in different spots in the batting order. The games are competitive, but the goal is to mature and train campers, and provide them with a lifetime of memories.

“I’ve always tried to make the camp first and foremost fun, but make sure the kids are mindful of their techniques and getting better,” Bendian said, of how he has designed his camp.

Over the years, Bendian has created alternative and exciting ways to help kids develop their baseball skills. My favorite was the “Olympics” on Friday of each week, where teams of campers compete in a round of skills competitions including a home run derby, a bunting competition, and long-catch, among many others. Campers, like I once was, are also introduced to traditional baseball games like Pepper (please google as the rules are too complex to explain, but baseball fans reading this will laugh knowing that 9-year old kids got a chance to play this historic game), and also Bendian-originals called “Throwball” (like regular baseball but the batter throws the ball instead of hits it with a bat), “Baseball Golf” and the “Goal Game.”

Bendian himself has become a figure within the Jewish communities of Teaneck and Bergen County. He makes sure to only purchase kosher punch mix for drinks at camp, and has learned the Hebrew calendar so he can host mini-camps during Chol Hamoed. He has attended bar mitzvahs of former campers, learned the details of kosher and I once had a long conversation with him about shatnez, after there were news reports that certain baseball caps sold in retails stores contained both wool and linen. Bendian has also provided many former campers with their first job. He routinely hires former campers who have aged out of his program, providing them with their first opportunity to have some responsibility and earn a little bit of spending cash.

The friendships I made as a camper, and while working there as a counselor, have been as strong and resilient as the friendships I made in high school and in college. And, perhaps more importantly, I made friends from across Teaneck and Bergen County, Jewish, non-Jewish and everything in between. Beyond the baseball skills I honed in his camp, I learned how to build meaningful and lasting friendships with kids who were not raised the same way as I was. His camp helped teach me how to explain kosher and Shabbos to people who had never personally experienced it before, and navigate friendships when I am unavailable from Friday night to Motzei Shabbos.

To this day, I still remember Bendian’s end-of-camp speech. I attended as a camper so often, and witnessed it as a counselor so many times, that I still remember his lasting mantra: “Practice doesn’t make perfect, perfect practice makes perfect.” The point is simple, but elegant. And it is one I still repeat to young attorneys whenever they reach out to me for advice.

And, truth be told, Bendian built a perfect camp for kids to play baseball.

These days, in addition to his camp, Bendian works as a job coach for the Montclair School District, teaching life skills to graduates with special needs, and helping to find them meaningful employment.

Seth Bendian’s Baseball Camp will run single week sessions July 31, August 7, August 14, August 21 and August 28. Check out his website to download the application. He can also be reached at [email protected].

Zack Schrieber is a former camper at Seth Bendian’s Baseball Camp and is currently a practicing attorney.

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