By Joyce CostelloOctober 3, 2007
LIVORNO, Italy - Several youth from Camp Darby recently received a chance that sports fans often dream about: spending time with former star athletes.
When Steve Parkhurst, the school liaison officer here, learned that several former Major League Baseball players - including Rod Carew, Lee Smith, Barry Larkin and several others - were holding an international clinic in Tirrenia, Italy, he quickly arranged a once-in-a-life-time opportunity for the Camp Darby group.
Along with members of the U.S. Army Garrison Livorno Youth Services baseball team, Parkhurst traveled to the Major League Baseball European Baseball Academy in Tirrenia, where the big leaguers - including some Hall of Famers - were instructing at the Italian National Olympic Training Center.
When former infielder and manager Jim Lefebvre blew his whistle and 50 European and African players ended their eight-hour training day with more laps around the field, the seven Camp Darby youth step forward warily. Obviously, they were excited and nervous about the chance of being coached by the diamond legends.
"I never thought I would ever get the chance to actually meet baseball history in the flesh," said Amanda Oliver, a 10th-grader. "It's an amazing opportunity that I'll never forget."
"My friends back in the states are going to be so jealous because I got to play with (the MLB group) and meet people who broke records," said senior William Berrios. "Maybe their skills will rub off on me."
Lefebvre has been in MLB for 24 years - playing many years with the Los Angeles Dodgers before managing the Chicago Cubs, Seattle Mariners and Milwaukee Brewers. Realizing that children of U.S. servicemembers are far from home, with few chances to see a ballgame, he relished the chance to greet them.
"Their parents are defending our country (that) we love and these kids deserve a lot," he said. "We are very fortunate to be in a position to hold this training day (for them). We want to do more things like this more often. We're available for these kids overseas if they ever need us."
As Lefebvre noted, playing a wide variety of sports or watching live games can be challenging for children of U.S. troops assigned to foreign countries. But they make the most out of every opportunity.
"When I moved here, (many) people told me I should try out for baseball," Oliver said, "because then there would be enough kids to have a team. Now, most of the time, I'm the only girl playing at our baseball games. But I feel good knowing that I can play with boys and still hold on my own."
Her teammate Berrios said he wants to pass on what he learned to others who couldn't attend the training session.
"Having MLB (members) show you skills to improve on and also to practice with you is awesome," he said. "I can use those drills to help teach youth when I get to coach."
At the end of the session, Lefebvre encouraged the Camp Darby players to work hard if they want to improve.
"You've got to put the time in to it: the effort, the training, the dedication and focus," he said.
He added that the greatest lesson he hoped they left with was to understand that everyone needs one another, on and off the field.
"No one man carries a team," he said 'Everybody does it together, and that is what is true in life."