Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV

Local Sports

August 3, 2013

Youth, players enjoy clinic

PRINCETON — Amid the giggles and grunts from a varied collection of children, learning was taking place in the sunshine on Saturday at Hunnicutt Field.

And it wasn’t only the children who were enjoying the 17th annual Princeton Rays Youth Baseball Clinic.

“I’m blessed that I got asked,” said Rays shortstop Spencer Edwards. “I love helping and coaching little kids.”

“It feels like it was just the other day that I was going to camps, multiple camps with different coaches and professional coaches.”

Tyler Bradford, 13, traveled from Pineville in central Wyoming County for his first visit to Hunnicutt Field, and he was impressed with the chance to share some field time with the players.

“These people are going to the majors, someday,” he said. “It’s an honor to be with them and to play with them.”

“They were all into us. They were helping. They were nice.”

Bradford played with a Little League all-star team from Pineville that reached the state tournament last month. He said, “We’ve gotten done with Little League. Now it’s middle school.”

He said in order to improve as a baseball player, “You’ve just got to have the heart. Never give up, and go with all you have. You can’t ever give up.”

Jaylen Hall, 7, of Gary put in a long morning picking up tips — and an autograph or two. One was inscribed on the bottom of the bill of his bright red baseball cap.

Hall said his favorite position is second base, but he was happy to learn something about pitching.

“Step and throw,” he said with a smile.

Clayton Crum, a pitcher for the Rays, explained, “In the time we had, we couldn’t break (pitching) down, and get into all the mechanics. (We concentrated) on just grasping the basic fundamentals.”

“The biggest thing is, we want to make pitching a fun thing, not a scary thing. We want everybody to know that they can try a new position.”

Princeton resident Marissa Akers, 7, said she came to the clinic for the first time “because I needed some help and thought it’d be fun.”

“I learned to dive for balls, and stay focused when hitting the ball,” she said.

Asked about what advice she would give to others considering the clinic, she said, “I would tell them they would enjoy it and the would have lots of fun.”

Diving for fly balls in the outfield seemed to be popular with several children.

“The outfield, that’s the fun station,” Crum said.

Edwards said that the infielders kept the instruction simple.

“They’re so young,” he said. “We were flippin’ them ground balls, teaching them to get in athletic position, on the balls of their feet.”

Princeton general manager Jim Holland said, “There were only 25 (children), but everybody had a good time.” He said due to the Appalachian League schedule this summer, “This was our very first opportunity to do it this year.”

“What we were tickled with was the fact that there was just so many people coming in from surrounding counties. That reinforces that we have a good following for Rays baseball for the outer counties.”

Holland said the annual youth clinic is “very heartening for us. It is a good feeling. We want to do things in our community. For these kids to have that big opportunity — it is meaningful. It does tug at you.”

“You just like seeing the looks on their faces as they experience walking on the field for the first time. Then as they get comfortable with it, they just take off and they do their thing.”

The on-field manager of the team, Danny Sheaffer, served as an instructor for the clinic along with several of his coaches and players.

He said, “You can fool a lot of people, but you can’t fool kids. So if you love kids, and you love what you’re doing, it’s going to show. We appreciate them coming out, and I appreciate the players helping me as well. ... The coaching staff, and the players, did a great job.”

“You can tell that if you give the kids the individual attention, they really love it, and you get great compliments from parents.”

Sheaffer said, “This is our responsibility, to give back, (and) it’s also a way to connect with kids.”

He said about his players’ participation, “I think some of them weren’t used to doing stuff like this. To see them interact with the kids, and two hours later to still have energy to cheer them on when they’re running the bases — they had a good time.”

Crum, the pitcher-turned-teacher, said, “In a way, it’s like we’re always on the other side — we’re learning, we’re getting coached. It’s good to give back. It’s always a blessing.”

Sheaffer said, “I think if they can do that at this level, and they can show enthusiasm and show genuine concern for kids at this level, that when they finally get to the major leagues, they’re going to be better human beings and be better individuals, better citizens.”

Youth clinics and similar activities give “a positive reflection on the Tampa Bay Rays,” he said. “If you can represent Tampa Bay in Princeton, West Virginia, and do it with pride and do it with class, it’s going to be that much easier when you get to Tropicana (Field),” a reference to the home of the major league team.

Holland said, “We are always trying to develop (our players) outside the foul lines.”

“As they progress in their careers, they will probably be running their own clinics, so this is a good chance for them to interface with kids of different ages and of different abilities, and to learn how to react to that, and watch how our coaches lead a clinic of varying ages and abilities, and I think it’ll help them down the road.”

“Our players are tremendously community oriented. We’ve always been very pleased with the quality of people that Tampa Bay sends us.”

“This is a learning experience for them, too, just like the kids, so that when the day comes that they can run their own clinics — probably even having their own name stamped on it — maybe they’ll get some ideas out of this.”

As temperatures on the field rose into the 80s at midday, the clinic concluded with an autograph session by the players. Each child also received a clinic T-shirt and a bobblehead doll of a Tampa Bay player.

The children also qualified for free admission to Saturday evening’s home game for the Rays with the Burlington Royals.

Crum said, “Our manager (Sheaffer), his mindset was, ‘We’re happy to be alive,’ so we want to bless others. It’s the whole name of the game.”

Edwards said, “We’re playing a little kids’ game, for a job! To come to the field every day is a blessing.”

Crum added, “We’re living a dream. There are not many that get to do that.”

— Contact Tom Bone at

tbone@bdtonline.com

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