Few things convey the feeling of spring like baseball, and though freezing rain and snow were coming down outside the climate-controlled dome at Bo Jackson's Elite Sports in Hilliard on Jan. 19, several children inside were enjoying their own field of dreams.
Throwing, chasing and catching soft-covered baseballs with the abandon and pleasure that is unique to 3-, 4- and 5-year-olds, they were participating in Baseball Buddies, a program with the focus of teaching "physical literacy."
Neal Packanik, director of baseball operations at Bo Jackson's Elite Sports on Cosgray Road, founded Baseball Buddies in 2012.
"Baseball is what I chose to develop physical literacy in young children," said Packanik, who introduced Baseball Buddies to day care facilities in Cleveland after founding it while operating his company, Ace Baseball.
Packanik said many of the fundamental elements in baseball are useful to develop motor skills in children.
Agility, object control and spatial awareness are but a few, he said.
The benefits, he said, extend well outside the boundaries of a baseball diamond.
"If children become comfortable moving they will be more active adolescents and adults," Packanik said.
Open to boys and girls ages 3 to 5, the program's coaches use a variety of drills to develop physical literacy and motor skills. Running the bases teaches agility, throwing a ball demonstrates object control and catching a ball as it falls from the air is a lesson in spatial awareness as a child learns when to clasp hands to catch it, said Brandon Szink, assistant director of baseball operations at Bo Jackson's Elite Sports and a program instructor.
The program, conducted in six one-hour sessions, is taught at the dome, as well as at various day care centers and preschools. After introducing the program, Packanik said, he learned it had other benefits, as parents and teachers of the children shared that students who had experienced Baseball Buddies responded better in kindergarten.
"They already had experiencing lining up and taking turns (in group settings)," Packanik said.
Socializing was among the reasons that Sam Riggle enrolled his son, Maddox, in the program.
"It's good for him to be around other kids," Riggle said.
It also is an opportunity for Maddox to develop his motor skills, he said.
Cliff Walker said his son, Jordy, asked about the conspicuous dome each time they passed it on Cosgray Road, and he explored programs available for children.
"He's too young (for organized baseball) but if he wants to play someday, this will give him a good head start," Walker said.
For more information about the next session of Baseball Buddies or other programs at Bo Jackson's Elite Sports, which opened in Hilliard in January 2017, go to bjescolumbus.com.