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Friday, October 30, 2020  Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Front & Center: Kenny Eilmes turned a strikeout into extra bases

Kenny Eilmes, pictured in the home dugout at North Central High School’s baseball field, runs Premier Mitts fielding camps. (Dan Pelle / The Spokesman-Review)
Kenny Eilmes, pictured in the home dugout at North Central High School’s baseball field, runs Premier Mitts fielding camps. (Dan Pelle / The Spokesman-Review)

Baseball is embedded in Kenny Eilmes’ DNA as clearly as a Louisville Slugger brand on maple.

His dad, Ken Eilmes, coached North Central High School baseball from 1975-86, and Kenny picked up a bat “as soon as I could walk.”

He earned all-GSL honors three times while playing shortstop for Central Valley High School, and he went on to distinguish himself in college.

“Ever since I was a little kid, my dream was to play in the majors,” Eilmes recalled. “I was going to buy my parents a house and not worry about money.”

The dream ended, like it so often does, when Eilmes’ college eligibility ran out and no professional team showed interest.

Without a fallback plan, he took a job reconditioning football helmets at a company his cousin managed.

And gradually he began work on a new dream.

Today, in addition to his career in public education, Eilmes (pronounced El-mess) runs Premier Mitts, a camp that teaches boys – and the occasional girl – infielder skills.

During a recent interview, he discussed his circuitous journey to business owner, what he likes most about coaching, and why he doesn’t watch much baseball on television.

S-R: Where did you grow up?

Eilmes: In the Spokane Valley.

S-R: What were your interests?

Eilmes: Baseball. I joined my first team when I was 6 or 7.

S-R: Did you root for a particular Major League club growing up?

Eilmes: Not really. I followed players. My all-time favorite is Pete Rose. I learned to switch hit when I was 10 because Rose was a switch hitter, and I wore number 14 because he did. I loved his intensity and his head-first slides.

S-R: Did you attend baseball camp?

Eilmes: Yes – TBI (Total Baseball Instruction) summer camp in Ephrata, starting when I was 9 or 10. There were about 200 of us, and we’d sleep in a middle school gym. My dad coached the catchers, and in return I got to attend for free.

S-R: What did you do after high school?

Eilmes: I went to Edmonds Community College (north of Seattle) on a scholarship, and played one year. Our coach, who had a relationship with the Oklahoma City University coach, got a call saying he needed a replacement shortstop yesterday. I happened to be at the right place at the right time, so I skipped my sophomore year at Edmonds and transferred to Oklahoma City.

S-R: Did you graduate?

Eilmes: No. I returned to Spokane, and after a few years I enrolled at Eastern and earned my teaching degree. Now I teach transition-level special education for 19- to 21-year-olds.

S-R: And you’ve stayed involved with baseball?

Eilmes: Yes. I coached high school baseball for 14 years – freshman, JV and varsity levels, as well as American Legion baseball in the summertime.

S-R: What made you decide to start your Premier Mitts camps?

Eilmes: There are so many components to baseball – pitching, outfield, base-running. My coach at Edmonds has run infielder camps in Seattle since I played for him 25 years ago. I asked if he minded my trying that in Spokane, and he said, “As long as you’re passionate about it, you have my blessing.”

S-R: What was the response here?

Eilmes: Growth was pretty gradual. We had about 10 kids our first year. The following summer we did two camps with 10 at each camp. Last year, we averaged about 20 kids per camp, with five summer camps and five winter camps

S-R: Who’s “we”?

Eilmes: When I say “we,” it’s me, myself and I, with some help from Cheney High School head coach Mike Cagle.

S-R: Do some youngsters take the camp more than once?

Eilmes: A lot of them do. I have one boy who flies in from Dallas every summer to attend camp. Others come from as far away as Colorado Springs, Montana and Moses Lake.

S-R: What’s the easiest thing to teach campers?

Eilmes: Fundamentals. I’m still in good enough shape that I can get down and demonstrate physical skills.

S-R: What’s hardest to teach?

Eilmes: Desire. Competitiveness.

S-R: Baseball used to be considered a spring sport, with some summer leagues. Why do you offer camps in the winter?

Eilmes: A lot of kids today specialize in one sport and give up the rest. Some even specialize in just one aspect of that sport – hitting, catching.

S-R: Is that a good thing?

Eilmes: I come from an age when kids played all sports. There were no baseball camps offered in the fall and wintertime, so I played football and basketball. If there had been something like Premier Mitts when I was growing up, I would have been in heaven.

S-R: What’s your business philosophy?

Eilmes: Treat everyone right – parents and students. If you come to my camp and aren’t happy, I’ll give you your money back.

S-R: Do participants have to be among the baseball elite for their age to attend camp?

Eilmes: Most of the kids have a good concept of the game, but anyone can attend and learn something. And we make sure they don’t hurt themselves.

S-R: What are you most proud of?

Eilmes: Seeing players I’ve worked with move on to the next level. Eight or nine are playing college ball, and three or four more will join them next year. That’s the whole reason I started the business. I have great respect for high school coaches, but they don’t have time to focus on infield skills the way I can. Nobody else does what I do.

S-R: What’s the key ingredient for success in baseball?

Eilmes: The same as with whatever field you’re in – passion.

S-R: Any big changes ahead for Premier Mitts?

Eilmes: This summer’s camps will be at Whitworth University’s Merkel Field, which has a state-of-the-art turf infield. That will be a major benefit for the players.

S-R: What advice would you offer someone who’s thinking about starting a camp to promote and teach their favorite activity?

Eilmes: Don’t worry about the money. Do it because you enjoy it.

S-R: By the way, do you watch a lot of baseball on TV?

Eilmes: I watch highlights – clips. I don’t sit and watch ballgames for three hours.

S-R: Why not?

Eilmes: They take too long. It’s boring.

This interview has been condensed. If you’d like to suggest a business or community leader to profile, contact Michael Guilfoil at mguilfoil@comcast.net.

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