Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV

Local Sports

July 28, 2012

Young baseball players get instruction from Princeton Rays

PRINCETON — Zach Butler spent the morning of his 23rd birthday on a baseball field with some children about half his age.

Less than 12 hours after leaving the Princeton Rays clubhouse on Friday night, four players with the Appalachian League team, along with manager Michael Johns, were back at Hunnicutt Field Saturday morning.

There they greeted 44 youngsters who had an opportunity to run around the infield and outfield, bat and field some balls and meet the professional players serving as instructors at the 16th annual Princeton Rays Youth Baseball Clinic.

“I like working with kids,” said Butler, a 6-foot-3 right-handed pitcher. “If I can make somebody better, that makes my day.”

Butler, Willie Argo, Reid Redman and James Harris Jr. joined Johns on the field.

Argo said, “M.J. (Johns) asked us about helping lead the camp. He thought we’d be pretty good with kids.

“We thought it’d be fun, too. We wanted them to enjoy hanging out with minor-league baseball players and, hopefully, make them better baseball players, too.”

Harris, a Princeton outfielder, said, “They always come in with a lot of energy. In return, you’ve got to have at least an equal amount of energy, all the time.”

Instructing children ages 7-15 “is different from being around minor-league baseball players all day,” Argo said.

“It’s kind of hard. It can be frustrating ... but you have to laugh about some of the things they do.”

“You have to kind of relax and have fun with it.”

The Rays outfielder said he is used to working with children, since he has five brothers and sisters who are all younger than he is.

“I’ve spend a lot of my life doing it,” he said. “I helped coach my little brother’s [Little League] team.”

He worked “two or three” camps last year while playing summer league baseball.

When he is not playing baseball, Butler said, “I give lessons to kids all the time. ... I get joy out of working with them, if they’re willing to learn the game.”

He said he enjoyed watching a group of children warming up by playing catch. As the baseballs came to them from various angles, he said, “They were divin’ after them, trying to make sure they didn’t hit the ground.”

“It was good to see the kids out there, having fun.”

Harris, who has also worked camps in the off-season, said, “I know there are kids that get things out of it. Some of them just like to be out running around. It’s good if they just enjoy their day, that’s the biggest thing.”

Argo’s group wound up in right field, where batting practice offered a fence 150 feet away from their “home plate.”

“They were hitting a lot of balls over the fence — way over the fence,” he said. “They were smashing the ball.”

Rays general manager Jim Holland said the annual clinic was all about serving the community that supports the team.

“We want to make our players available to the community in any way that we can,” he said. “The Tampa Bay organization has always been about accessibility to the public.”

The instruction complements what is already occurring on the local level, he said.

“There are some very good coaches in this area,” he said. “This just brings another perspective.”

Butler, Harris and Argo said they were aware that baseball is not as popular among children these days as football and basketball.

They would like to be part of turning that around.

“Anything good for baseball is worthwhile to take part in,” Argo said. “We just want to get them to have fun with it and make them want to continue playing.”

Butler added his view that athletes playing football and basketball are being “promoted more” in the media.

Harris, who grew up in Oakland, Calif., said, “I realize I came from the same playing fields.”

He said students interested in baseball and other sports “need to just keep working hard. What they’ve got to do is to set a goal and do everything they can to reach it.”

Argo mentioned the state baseball championship won this spring by Princeton Senior High School and tied it to youth baseball clinics.

“Hopefully, more kids will get into [baseball], and Princeton will get more state titles,” Argo said.

— Contact Tom Bone at

tbone@bdtonline.com

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