ST. PETERS, Mo. — Sit on a bench at any local baseball field and close your eyes. What you will hear is the soundtrack of an American summer: kids playing baseball. But to some, it's the sound of silence.
Welcome to another session of the Mike Bush Fantasy Baseball Camp for the deaf and hard of hearing, where kids who spend the rest of the year trying to fit in, get a chance to stand out. For one week every summer, kids ages 7 to 14 learn skills that will help them on the field and off.
"Even though a lot of things have changed as far as kids mainstreaming a lot earlier," explained Camp Director Cari Dimovitz, "They still might be the only kid with a hearing aid or a cochlear implant and when they come here, they see other kids who are just like them. It helps build their confidence, their self-esteem and they feel comfortable here."
Bradley Miller is a long-time volunteer here. He not only coaches, he handles all the camp's digital media.
"My story actually goes back about seven years. My son was born with a hearing impairment," said Miller. His son, Braden Miller, is in his third year as a camper, but for Brad it seems like yesterday when he got the diagnosis.
"It was pretty tough at first," Brad explained through tears. "It's tough because you don't even want to acknowledge that there may be something wrong with your child."
Braden received his hearing aids when he was just 10-months-old. Now, at the age of 8, he's thriving and loving both baseball and the camp.
"I just think that it's cool that there is other kids around me that have hearing aids just like me," Braden told us.
The camp started because of one 8-year-old boy, but as all baseball lovers know, if you build it they will come. Twenty-eight years later, more than 1,500 kids have been able to play ball. And former campers are coming back as volunteers.
"I want to give all the campers the same experience I had," said Austin Rooks. "I want to give them the opportunities and the sense of belonging here."
Rooks was just 7 when he first signed up. He's now a full-time registered nurse, but he's never forgotten how the camp made him feel.
"It makes you feel not so alone," he said.
It may only last a week, but it stays with these kids much longer.
"I think kids just want to be included and they want to be a part of something," Miller said. "That's the neat thing for me is to see them experience that on a level that they may not be able to otherwise."
Helping kids just be kids. At the Fantasy Baseball Camp, it's a message that comes through loud and clear.
For more information about the Mike Bush Fantasy Baseball Camp, visit their website.