Former Major Leaguers teach at youth clinic
Instructors emphasize that having fun in the game is important
TULSA, Okla. -- Although the youth turnout was lower than expected, there was no shortage of smiles and valuable instruction during the Legends for Youth Baseball Clinic on Monday at ONEOK Field.
Former Major League players Steve Rogers, Steve Bowling, Steve Crawford, Pat Dodson, Jackson Todd and Rick Wrona instructed youth on the home field of the Texas League's Tulsa Drillers, the Double-A affiliate of the Colorado Rockies.
For two hours, the young players received teaching on pitching, catching, baserunning, hitting and life skills. After the clinic, they had a chance to get autographs and have pictures taken with the Major League alumni.
"It was fun," said Todd, who pitched for the New York Mets and Toronto Blue Jays from 1977-81. "I love the enthusiasm of the kids. If there's one thing I would like them to take away from today, it would be to be dedicated and work hard.
"The kids were great, and I liked that we had a few girls turn out."
One of those was Brooke Niver, 12, a student at Tulsa's School of Saint Mary.
"The thing I liked most was meeting all of the former players," Niver said. "I don't pitch, but I learned about pitching. They told us never to give up on your dreams, and that's what I will try to do."
You never know what will happen or what you'll see at a Legends for Youth Clinic. Many of the youths got their first look at a Montreal Expos uniform, which was being worn by Rogers, who from 1973-85 won 158 games -- still the most in the history of that franchise that relocated to Washington in 2005.
The smaller turnout did enable those who did attend to receive more individualized instruction than is normal at a Legends clinic, which usually draws from 150 to 350 participants. More than a hundred clinics are scheduled across the United States and in other countries this year.
"It does help one-on-one, but we would've loved to have seen more kids on the field interacting with us," said Rogers, who is on the Major League Baseball Alumni board. "Clinics are about being down on the field with kids who want to be on the field and interacting with them.
"We can give them a sense of what's important, get them to focus on some basics and what you can work on to become a better player. But it's really about talking about the love of the sport and that playing it correctly is what makes it most fun. I'm 64 years old, but I want them to know that I love the game you guys love to play as much as I do."
Rogers then added with a laugh, "But I just can't play it much anymore."
Connor Leach, 10, from Glenpool, Okla., liked most "meeting the retired baseball players and learning never to give up."
Trent Sweeney, a 10-year-old second baseman from Sand Springs, Okla., enjoyed getting tips on his batting stance and learning how to throw correctly.
"They told us having fun is important," Sweeney said.
Sweeney's teammate, Cade Surrett, said, "I learned how throw from a windup, It was really fun." Fun is something that Wrona, a catcher with the Cubs, Reds, White Sox and Brewers from 1988-94, stresses whenever he speaks to kids.
"I didn't hear that a lot when I was growing up, but I had fun," said Wrona, whose father Walt, was a Minor League catcher and a popular player with the Tulsa Oilers from 1948-51. "You've got to have fun and a passion for the game. Baseball can be a difficult game, and if a coach is screaming at you and you're not having fun, that's going to lead kids to quit. This was a good time to tell the kids to have fun playing baseball.
"My dad gave so much back, and I want to do the same thing. Baseball has given me everything in life. It's fun working with kids."
Bowling, a former Toronto and Milwaukee Brewers outfielder, enjoys being at youth clinics.
"We, as alumni, need to try to give back to the game," Bowling said. "We miss out if we don't give back and spend time with kids. This is a good opportunity to reach out to them."
Crawford, who pitched for Boston and Kansas City from 1980-91, wishes he could have had an opportunity as a youngster to learn from former Major Leaguers.
"I think this helps out kids, and I think they should take advantage of it," Crawford said. "I never had the chance for this type of instruction. I think if they can get one thing out of a clinic, then we've done our job."
For 10-year-old Mikah Roberts of Sand Springs, that one thing was a pitching tip from Crawford.
"I learned about balance, and that's going to make me a better pitcher," Roberts said.
Barry Lewis is a contributor to MLB.com This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.