Netzaberg students hang with MLB stars
February 5, 2013
ESCHENBACH, Germany -- The Netzaberg Middle School gymnasium came alive this afternoon as several former Major League Baseball players fielded questions and signed autographs for students, here.
The visit was part of a three-day Fox Sports' event called "Spring Training to the Troops," which encourages physical fitness, resilience and a healthy lifestyle among the Army community.
Players included David Justice, Heath Bell, Rollie Fingers, Jose Tolentino and Fox Sports Girls Liddy and Brittany. Another group of former MLB players, including Wade Boggs, Tim Salmon and Brian Schneider, visited Grafenwoehr Elementary School.
Students at both schools took the opportunity to ask questions and interact with the MLB celebrities.
At Netzaberg, 12-year-old Chris Woods' hand shot up first. He had an urgent question for Liddy: "Are you married?"
A hush fell over the crowd of nearly 100 middle school students.
"No, I'm not married. Are you asking me on a date?"
The students erupted with laughter and high-pitched chatter.
Following Woods' ice-breaking question, which he said he was asking for his shy friend, students posed more serious questions for their guests.
One student wanted to know if the players ever got nervous during a game, while another asked how it felt to be in the Hall of Fame.
Sixth-grader Madison Rose asked the group, "How did it feel when you hit your first homerun?"
Tolentino laughed, saying it wasn't hard to remember since he has only hit one homerun in the majors (against the Mets' Alejandro Pena in 1991).
Justice said he couldn't quite recall his first homerun, before describing the event down to the temperature that day. The tongue-in-cheek humor was not lost on the middle schoolers.
Rose, who grew up in Boston, said Justice was her favorite player but she also cheered against him at times because he played for the Yankees.
"My dad would kill me if I rooted for the Yankees," she said, smiling.
Seventh-grader Nick Gannon asked Rollie Fingers a question many were wondering: "How did you get your mustache so awesome?"
"I stuck my finger in a light socket," Fingers said. "No, I've had this thing for 40 years, so I can do it in my sleep."
Tolentino explained the story behind Fingers' famous 'stache: When Fingers played for the Oakland Athletics in the '70s, owner Charlie Finley said he would pay each player who grew a mustache $300. Fingers said it was an easy choice to make and has kept it ever since.
"Rollie Fingers is my hero," Gannon said. "I have his card at home and it's signed by him."
However, the students weren't the only ones enamored by the celebrities' visit. Teachers and administrators snapped photos and mingled with the stars, too.
Kristen Stone, a seventh- and eighth-grade reading teacher at Netzaberg Middle School, got autographs from and took photos with Justice and Fingers. A native of Wisconsin, she recalled taking her 2-month-old daughter to see Fingers pitch for the Milwaukee Brewers in the early '80s.
After the question-and-answer session, the VIPs signed autographs and made their way back to the bus amid the river of middle schoolers.
Students rushed to their lockers to grab their books and homework, and followed the VIPs out for last-minute autographs before getting on their buses to head home.
One teacher popped out of her classroom and reminded students, "Make sure you say thank you!"
Later in the afternoon, the players and broadcasters hosted a free youth sports baseball clinic at the Grafenwoehr Fieldhouse, which included batting cages, T-ball work and pitching stations.
On Feb. 6, the group will do PT with Soldiers, experience a Soldier's life through training sessions at the Engagement Skills Trainer and MRAP Egress Trainer, and participate in a wiffleball competition between 709th Military Police Battalion and 172nd Infantry Brigade Soldiers at the Grafenwoehr Physical Fitness Center, from 2-4 p.m.
For more coverage, visit USAG Grafenwoehr's Facebook page.
Editor's Note: Chelsea Bissell, U.S. Army Garrison Grafenwoehr Public Affairs, contributed reporting.