MLB players teach a Youth Baseball Clinic in Grafenwoehr
February 5, 2013
GRAFENWOEHR, Germany -- Aspiring Grafenwoehr baseball and softball stars got the treat of a lifetime, Feb. 5, as they got one-on-one coaching from some of the world's top baseball players, here, at the Grafenwoehr Field House.
Major League Baseball players and Hall of Famers shared their expertise in a Youth Baseball Clinic at USAG Grafenwoehr as part of Fox Sports' "Spring Training to the Troops."
The MLB players, all volunteers, joined the Fox Sports Girls and Fox Sports announcers for a whirlwind three-day trip to Grafenwoehr which will include PT with the Soldiers, training sessions, combatives, conversations with the Warrior Transition Unit and a wiffleball game.
"They were wanting to experience the daily life the Soldier and, in turn, support the Army and our Soldiers and Soldiers' families and civilians," said Marnie Holder, Commander's Initiative Group, Installation Management Command.
Waiting for the MLB legends at the clinic, the children, ages 8-18, gathered on the bleachers of the Field House with their parents. Some were decked out in head to toe baseball regalia: hats, jerseys, knee-high socks, mitts and cleats.
Others, still in their dresses and jeans from school, looked just as excited to learn what they could and mingle with celebrities.
Broken into age groups, the children rotated between four stations, each led by the player or coach who dominated that position.
Heath Bell, Luke Gregerson and Rollie Fingers coached pitching on three separate mini pitcher's mounds. Wade Boggs and Jose Tolentino focused on fielding. Bob Brenly headlined the T-ball station and David Justice gave batting pointers to attendees as Tim Salmon pitched them the ball.
While many of the children were giddy to meet and interact with the athletes, they listened intently to instructions and drew what they could from some of baseball's greatest wells of knowledge.
"I like seeing the famous players," said Rian Ritter, 10, who pitches for his baseball team. But, he valued the one-on-one time with Brenly at the tee, "because he's a coach and I can learn something from him."
For the younger children and less experienced players, the Fox Sports athletes concentrated on the basics. Boggs explained to a group of 8-10 year olds the fundamentals of fielding. He instructed them to stay low to ground, because "it's easier to go up than go down" and to "always keep the ball in front of your chest."
The high school softball and baseball players who could easily hit every pitch and field every ground ball, received more nuanced, personalized advice on how to improve their game.
After Alexandra Lopez, 17, hit a few balls, Justice pulled her aside for a private powwow.
"With you, the only thing I got to tell you is to get some rhythm in you," he told her.
He then went into detail, pinpointing how Lopez could find her rhythm as she waits for the ball and how to move better within her strike zone.
"He helped me a lot because my rhythm's been a problem for me in the past," said Lopez after her tutorial. "I'm glad I got a professional opinion on it."
While the program aimed to improve military children's skills on the diamond, it also endeavored to inspire the youth to stay active and healthy.
"These MLB players have devoted their lives to physical fitness," said Col. James Saenz, USAG Grafenwoehr commander. "They help set an example of the positive effects of a lifetime of physical fitness and we wanted to share that with our Soldiers and families."
But, explained Saenz, the Youth Baseball Clinic was about having fun, for both the baseball greats and Grafenwoehr's own up-and-comers.
"It's hard to tell who's having a better time: the players or the kids," said Saenz.
Gregerson, who has worked with military members and families throughout his career, concurred with Saenz.
"One thing I think (the kids) don't understand is that it makes us as happy to see them as it makes them to see us."
The whole community can come see the MLB players in action as they duke it out against Soldiers from the 172nd Infantry Brigade and 709th Military Police Battalion in a wiffleball game at the Grafenwoehr Physical Fitness Center on Wednesday, Feb. 6, from 2-4 p.m.