Learning from legends

Former major leaguers teach baseball to youngsters at Youth Skills Clinic during Classic Weekend

June 19, 2010
A dozen former major leaguers taught baseball skills to kids at the Legends for Youth Skills Clinic at Doubleday Field. (Carter Kegelman/Baseball Hall of Fame)

Approximately 200 children received the experience of a lifetime when a dozen men with about 65 years of big league time lent their vast experience with the national pastime to the next generation of ballplayers.

The Legends for Youth Skills Clinic for boys and girls ages 5 to 12, presented by the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum and the Major League Baseball Players Alumni Association, was held under brilliantly sunny skies Saturday afternoon at historic Doubleday Field.

Working with the kids on their on- and off-the-field skills were such ex-major leaguers as Paul Blair, Fred Cambria, John Doherty, Steve Grilli, Jim Hannan, Dickie Noles Dennis Rasmussen, Tony Saunders, Rich Surhoff and Jon Warden.

Prior to the event’s start, a number of the players talked about what brought them to Cooperstown and what they hoped to impart on the young participants.

“When I got this opportunity there was no thinking twice. I had to come up here and do this. There’s one thing I always try and tell the kids – have fun doing what you’re doing,” said Saunders, who won a World Series with the 1997 Florida Marlins but had to leave the game as a result of breaking his pitching arm on the mound. “I remember one time Eddie Murray came around one of our fields and it was the biggest deal. Just knowing what it does for the kids and the smiles that they have, that’s what it’s all about because that’s our future.”

Noles spent 11 seasons as a big league pitcher, winning the 1980 World Series while a member of the Philadelphia Phillies.

“I think you want to make sure they have fun,” Noles said. “It’s a very simple game – you hit it, you throw it and you catch it. You just need to learn how to use the glove for protection, you need to learn some proper mechanics with swinging and throwing, so they can go out, forget about it, and have fun.

“I’ve done lots of clinics and the reaction I get are the kids are just going to be glad to be out here on the field listening to a former major league talk.”

Grilli, who spent a few seasons pitching with the Detroit Tigers in the mid-1970s, enjoys giving back to a game that has given him so much.

“Working kids clinics over the years, I think I come home more excited than they do. I think I get a lot more out of it,” Grilli said. “And then there are those cases where you know you made a difference and I feel like I’ve done something, that I’ve given back.

“My message to them is just to dream and dream big. I look at them and I wish I could trade places and do this all over again because the game brings me joy,” he added. “But you do it through their eyes and you hope you can maybe make them a little visionary in the sense of dreaming big. Work hard and there’s a possibility it can happen because it does.”

For Rasmussen, who works very closely with MLBPAA, hitter friendly Doubleday Field played host to his appearance in the 1987 Hall of Fame Game, when he went seven scoreless innings and picked up the win in a 3-0 victory over the Atlanta Braves. “Which is a pretty good feat in this ballpark because I was known for giving up a few home runs,” he said with a smile.

As for his participation in Saturday’s event, Rasmussen called it a privilege.

“Probably the biggest thing I want to convey is to respect the game and that it’s a privilege to play it,” Rasmussen said. “Basically just respect the game, play your heart out and give yourself an opportunity to enjoy it. The bottom line is to have fun.”

Whiten, an 11-year big league right fielder, wanted to talk about the importance of practice.

“The biggest thing is practice because this is a difficult game to play and if you aren’t out there practicing it just doesn’t come easy,” Whiten said. “As long as you keep working hard you’ll get better but you can’t give up on it.”

The annual Legends for Youth Skills Clinic is part of Hall of Fame Classic Weekend at the Baseball Hall of Fame – highlighted by Sunday’s 2 p.m. legends game at Doubleday Field.

Bill Francis is a library associate for the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum