This is what Phil Bova said he wants his name to be known for. Those who have associated with him in any way — casual interactions at the Bakers Square restaurant in North Olmsted, out for a round of bowling or golf or as an attendee of one of his annual Bova Baseball Camps over the past 45 years — would almost certainly attest to that.
For nearly a half-century, Bova provided 7- to 14-year-old baseball players of various skill levels with what he refers to as “spring training in your own back yard.” It was a weeklong summer camp covering all the fundamentals one would need to know to succeed in the game.
In April, Bova decided there would not be a 46th camp due to personal reasons.
“I’m really grateful for the opportunity to have the ability to work with children and aspiring athletes,” Bova said. “I want them to learn (the game) the right way even if they don’t take it to the next level. If you have a love of the game, it’s easy to teach. I always wanted to give back.”
Bova also said he couldn’t have done it without the support of the community of Westlake and
his wife, Donna, whom he called the “backbone of the camp.” The city’s rec center fields were the site of the camp the last several years after it moved from Baldwin Wallace University.
Prior to last year’s camp, Bova said he liked to take things one day at a time. He aspired to get to 50 years but knew nothing was guaranteed.
“If I’m physically able to do it and mentally able to do it, we’re gonna keep going,” Bova told West Life in June 2018. “I surround myself with good people and that’s what it’s all about. If we get to that point where we can’t ring that bell, we look back and know that we’ve accomplished a tremendous amount.”
Bova’s camp was a summer tradition and a family tradition. Some of those who went to the camp in its early years saw their children and even grandchildren attend.
How does a camp reach the level of demand where families plan their summer vacations around it? Bova’s passion for the game and teaching kids the fundamentals in fun ways are at the forefront. Oh, and over 200 combined years of baseball experience between the camp’s dozens of coaches and counselors doesn’t hurt.
“Seeing these kids excel is the greatest feeling in the world,” Bova said. “Knowing you made a difference in their life.”
I was lucky enough to spend a day at last year’s Bova Baseball Camp and saw first hand the level of attention and care put into a day of drills, skills and thrills. The enthusiasm shown by the campers and coaches was truly contagious. It had me wanting to pick up a bat and learn the proper way to bunt a baseball.
At the end of the camp, Bova was awarded with a proclamation from Westlake Mayor Dennis Clough, declaring June 22, 2018, Bova Baseball Camp Day. Bova’s surprise, emotion and appreciation were as real as I’ve ever seen.
“To be recognized by an entire city, I’m proud of that because that’s where I live,” Bova said during his acceptance speech. “It was just an honor to be able to do what we did today and I’m just thrilled that everyone went home very well satisfied.”
Bova knows that not everyone will go on to become a Major League Baseball player, but he put his heart and soul into making every player he worked with better. Once you took part in a Bova baseball camp, you were more than just a camper.
“From this point on, we are Bova Baseball,” he told last year’s campers. “We are family. You’re going to learn more about baseball than you could imagine. That I guarantee you.”
So from myself and from all the people and players who have had the pleasure of spending time with you: Thank you, Phil.
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