Wednesday, August 22, 2007

MLBPPA Kids Clinic At RFK Stadium

"Come On CHAMP!! You step right in there!!!" My Favorite Player of All Time--was on his game. Kids, nearly 200 of them surrounded the Home Field of Our Washington Nationals. Frank Howard was a Guest Instructor--teaching hitting mechanics. It was Friday Morning, August 17th. The turf at RFK STADIUM was buzzing. And, I was along for the ride.

"Hondo" was one of Seven Coaches who volunteered their time towards The Major League Baseball Players Alumni Association free clinic for youngsters--ages 6 through 16. A Freddie Mac Sponsored Event in Washington, DC that travels around the country each year. A effort put forth by the MLBPAA--currently celebrating their 25th Anniversary.

Additional instructors included three former Washington Senators: Jim Hannan, Brant Alyea and Fred Valentine. Former Baltimore Orioles Lefthander Scott McGregor was one of the pitching coaches--along with former New York Yankee, Jim Coates. And Current Washington Nationals VP, Head of Player Development--Bob Boone also was on hand. During the nearly two hour session--the kids rotated among Work Stations with the various Former Major League Players.

"Hondo" took a look at every one's batting stance--then slow tossed in pitches to adjust swings. One time looking at me after one youngster popped the baseball over the centerfield fence (Home Plate was in short right field)--"I'm going to make that boy The NEXT REAL PRO!!! (Smiling Broadly--as only Frank Howard can)."

Jim Hannan taught base running skills.

Brant Alyea instructed hitting philosophy.

Fred Valentine fielding fly balls, and throwing over distance.

Scott McGregor worked with the many participants on Pitching Mechanics. Jim Coates also worked on getting the young players to throw the baseball properly.

And, Bob Boone worked on ground ball fielding skills.

“These clinics give the kids the basic skills from all the former players. Some different terminology heard from the pros," said Vice President of Marketing for MLBPAA--Chris Torgusen. "These guys played the game. Some of the very few that got the chance to wear a Big League Uniform. These kids are being taught baseball skills from those who know the game. They go station to station, you certainly can’t teach them everything in one day—but you look to see how they are throwing the ball—change their grip—or arm angle—or bat swing, tweak it a little bit. We are not here to make Willie Mays out here. We hopefully can help them advance. So, when they go on the baseball field again—the kids understand more what they are trying to do. Its free. That’s important. We don’t charge anybody, anything for attending. Not a dime. These Former Players are out here donating their time, also. A good way for them to give back to the game.”

Chris and I continued:

Do the former players get excited about participating? (SBF)

“They get to put on the old uniform again. It doesn’t fit as well (both of us chuckling). Put the uniform on, lace up the spikes. The Home Runs get longer. The Pitches get faster. They struck out Ted Williams 10 Times—So its good (both of us busting up laughing—knowing its true). But, its good to have someone like Bob Boone out here who works with the ballclub (The Nationals) to give back to the game and be out on the field with us. We are excited about it. And, the kids enjoy it. Honestly, half these kids don’t have any idea who these players are—but you read the bio to them, tell them an All-Star was out here. They understand. You know, growing up—I never had this type of an opportunity to do something like this. Its all good--for us, these kids and the former players.”

How difficult is it to get the former players involved? (SBF)

“Not difficult at all. If they are not busy working or out of town—WE NEVER GET A ‘NO’ And, it’s a chance for them to see other players and swap stories too. Some guys haven’t seen each other in maybe 10 to 15 years. They come out--relive some of the memories—its kind of neat.”

“These Clinics bring back a lot of memories. One of the players was telling us the very first pitch he saw here (AT RFK) he hit a Home Run. (that player was Brant Alyea). Its neat, seeing them relive the memories. Many times, the kids' parents are getting a chance to see their childhood hero. Maybe that parent can tell their child Frank Howard then, was what Frank Thomas is today.”

These MLBPAA Clinics travel around the USA. You can check out their schedule at the MLBPPA Website. After the two hours of instruction, Frank Howard delivered a Speech to the gathered youngsters along the third base stands. Following that--each participant lined up, near Diamond Club on the 300 Level of RFK Stadium to receive T-Shirts, Autographs, Free Lunch, Goodie Bag and Four Free Tickets to an upcoming Washington Nationals Game. As "HONDO" was leaving the autograph session--I asked him how things went today? "Great!", he responded. "Any chance to get back on the field, teach some kids the game, always worthwhile. We need to get more kids involved in baseball. Glad to be able to help out."

Really, it was interesting to see the various responses from the kids from all age groups. The children were interested, listening intently to the instructors. The Former Major League Players enjoying their time back on the field of play.

The MLBPAA Youth Coordinator--Ryan Bevans--was kind enough to give me a few minutes to explain The Alumni Association and their role.

How did it all get started? (SBF)

“This is the 25th Anniversary, it started with Chris (Torgusen) here, when The Major League Baseball Player Alumni Association started. Chris was one of the first guys to get these clinic going. The past few years it has really taken off bringing kids in via, Sponsorships and things like that. And, although the clinics have been going for a while, we are really looking to expand. Hopefully, into every Major League City eventually—more inner city and latino focus down the road.”

So, all these events come from a sponsor? (SBF)

“No, not all events are sponsored. Some are funded by us (MLBPAA) through the funds we raise (from members). When that happens, we can go into a target area and let all the kids come out for free by funding it ourselves. Then, if a sponsor comes in—we can provide a little more—like Tee Shirts and small mementos. Obviously, that is something that is nice to do—and appreciated by the kids.”

You mentioned to me earlier you are looking to expand to 34 cities this year (2007), how does that compare to the past? (SBF)

“It grows every year. We did 25 the season before. And they (MLBPAA) are looking to do 34 this year. Hopefully, if we can add one additional person to this role—we can expand to 50 cities next year.”

So, how difficult is it to get former MLB Players to volunteer their time to do this? (SBF)

“The Former Players are great!! Today, we had guys that drove 3 to 4 hours just to come out and participate. In this case, we even put a couple up in a hotel so they don’t have to fight rush hour traffic and leave at 3AM (Laughing). For the most part, if the former players are members and they have nothing going on—THEY LOVE TO COME AND DO THIS STUFF!!—gives them a chance to be back on the ball field for a day.” (And, its totally volunteer, correct?—SBF) “We do reimburse them for their expenses. But, since we are a non profit we don’t pay them. We do have a branch that does pay for appearances—but for clinics—its all about the kids, doing as many clinics as we can—with as many kids as we can.”

How is it decided what groups of kids get to attend? (SBF)

“In the past we have always done ages 6 to 16 as the age groups. For this one here at RFK, we ended up with 200 kids or so. Its based on how many players we have as instructors, the size of the facility and how we can accommodate as many as possible. A Sponsored one, like this one (FREDDIE MAC) allows us to do a lot more.”

But, lets say I am in Alexandria, Virginia in Little League. Someone else is in Montgomery County, Maryland Little League—How do you decide who and how many come from each area? (SBF)

“When our mass email goes out (TO THE AREA), we say the first 125 respondents will be registered. From there, we cap it to see how much room we have to work with. Its such a huge response, we actually have to go through the emails to see if they (Kids Baseball Groups) are sending in for two or three kids at a time. Some try to sign up whole teams. But, when they do that—we have to go back to them to get registration information from their guardians. We notify everyone who signs up whether they are in or out—then as spots become available (due to dropouts or added instructors) we keep people posted. For this particular clinic, we had an immediate response from all over. There was no problem filling the registration spots.”

What is The Nationals Involvement in all this—other than a provider of the facility? (SBF)

“Providing the facility is a BIG Part of it all. Number 1 on the checklist!! (Both of us laughing) You got to have a place to do it. They also provide man power. The set up, water, the tables for the autograph session and the grab bag stuff for later. Allowing us (MLBPAA) to use their logo (The Curly ‘W’) is important. All the kids in this area identify with that logo. For most—The Nationals are their favorite team. To say ‘I went to RFK for the clinic, got a tee-shirt’ and all that stuff—is good for identification purposes. Our Name (MLBPAA) is good. But, when we can attach it to the Local Team, its a lot better for recognition.”

I would imagine some of those parents over in the stands watching their kids are DYING to walk onto this field? (SBF)

(Both of us laughing) “Oh Yeah!! EXACTLY!! But, they better stay up there as it’s a big groundskeepers issue.”

What kind of feedback do you hear from Little League Coaches about these clinics? (SBF)

“Usually, the feedback is great. Its more of an experienced based thing. You get people out. You try to get them to learn as much as you can. The Former Players can relate their experiences and what the game is all about. Something their Little League Coaches may not be able to relate. But, bottom line, we want them to have a good time. That is what we are shooting for. Now, they are not necessarily going to learn “The Secrets” to going to the pros in one day, but if these kids can come out and remember they spent a day at RFK learning a tiny bit about the game its worthwhile. For them to remember--they were instructed by Frank Howard on how to swing the bat—that experience is what we want them to see. And, that’s the type of feedback we always receive.”

Many of the kids today were participating under the umbrella Group "Play Ball DC"--A Non Profit Group that works with youth baseball organizations in the District. Its Director, Michael Williams telling me: "These events are invaluable. The Clinics give the youngsters, not only the opportunity to learn some new skills--but also see a potential future--playing on the fields--not on the streets."


WFY said...

Great stuff, but too bad Hondo had an interlocking NY rather than a curly W.

Cathy said...

Oh maaaan! This looks awesome! I got an invitation for Little Chatter to attend, but was seriously bummed we were in Texas that weekend! I hope he gets invited next time!

Anonymous said...

There is someting so very very wrong about seeing Bob Boone in a Nationals jersey

Screech's Best Friend said...

WFY--Yeah "Hondo" doesn't look right in that Yankees Stuff. Very strange to me also.