Former players attend Houston Urban Youth Academy clinic

Spinks, McCray, Gwosdz, Young, Valdes coach kids on baseball fundamentals

HOUSTON -- Many years ago, Scipio Spinks was scouting in Pine Bluff, Ark. While working out a player there, Spinks spotted a tall, athletic freshman named Torii Hunter and approached him.

"I said, 'Young man, do me a favor,'" Spinks said. "Play baseball, work hard and swing a wood bat. Years later, I'm in Fort Myers [Florida], in Spring Training, I hear somebody calling me. He said, 'It's me Torii. I just want to say thank you for what you told me.'

"He said, 'There were two people who told me to play baseball in my young career. My grandfather and you.' You never know who you're going to touch."

Spinks, who has spent 46 years in Major League Baseball, and four other former MLB players, made an impact on a group of youngsters aged 6-16 on Saturday at the Houston Urban Youth Academy.

Spinks, Rodney McCray, Doug Gwosdz, Anthony Young and Pedro Valdes instructed the youngsters, on behalf of the Major League Baseball Players Alumni Association, on the finer points of throwing, catching, hitting and baserunning, as well as life skills, during a 2 1/2-hour clinic.

"I think we made a big impact on them," Young said. "They seemed to listen to us."

A small but attentive group of 25 youngsters withstood the Texas heat and appeared to be soaking in the valuable information that the former professional players were sharing.

"This was a lot better than just having 250 kids out, where you have a baby-sitting type thing," said Spinks, currently working with the Arizona Diamondbacks organization. "This was a lot of hands-on individual instruction. I'm sure they took something home."

Added McCray, who rose to fame in 1991 by attempting to make a catch before running through the outfield fence in a minor league game: "It was a small group, but sometimes a small group is better because you get their full attention. These kids benefited from that. In such a small group, we got to spend quality time and they stayed focused.

"They definitely learned to run [the bases] the proper way, to field a ground ball or to throw it the proper way, which a lot of kids don't know how to throw the proper way that I see in youth baseball. These kids benefited from the time we spent with them."

Samuel Lopez, a 14-year-old from Houston, was one of the standout participants at the clinic.

"This kid was more advanced," McCray said. "I could tell he had good footwork and had a good arm, so I spent some time with him on his release point and throwing actions, and he benefited from it. He has a desire to be a baseball player."

Lopez said he was grateful for the hitting tips from Valdes and from all the instruction.

"It was a great experience to play, and it was good learning from these guys," Lopez said. "There wasn't a lot of people, so I got more attention from the guys, which helped a lot. When I actually got on the field, it ended up being a lot of fun.

"Pedro helped me with my batting. I learned about the positions, like the technique, the fundamentals of baseball, and which way to run and catch the ball correctly."

Mauriel Zavala, a 13-year-old from Houston, said all the baseball tips he picked up on Saturday morning were invaluable.

"I learned you have to work hard, play hard, put forth effort and you'll get something good out of it," Zavala said. "Whatever they say, every word means something.

"You just have to practice every day. Starting from school, you got to get the grades. And when you get out of school, whatever sport you play, you got to work hard."

All of the instructors enjoyed helping the youngsters improve their baseball skills.

"We learned a long time ago how to play the game," Gwosdz said. "We'll pass something on to the youth of the game, because that's the future for baseball. Whatever we can do to make them a better person and a better ballplayer, that's why we're here."

Richard Dean is a contributor to This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.