Minnesota kids excited to Play Ball with Twins

Minnesota kids excited to Play Ball with Twins

WOODBURY, Minn. -- Brandon Johnson's 9-year-old son, Zachary, keeps busy with his baseball schedule. There are a few weekly games, and regular practices in addition to the games. But the opportunity to learn at a free clinic on Saturday was too good to pass up.

Zachary was one of dozens of kids who learned from coaches at the Play Ball Minnesota Youth Skills Clinic at the Bielenberg Sports Complex in Woodbury. The event, which was hosted by the Minnesota Twins, is part of the "Play Ball" initiative launched last year by Major League Baseball.

Kids at the Woodbury event Saturday learned plenty of fundamentals -- from throwing to catching to hitting. The first session consisted of kids ages 6-9, while the second group later in the day was made up of 10- to 13-year-old kids.

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"Just the quality of coaching, to be able to be exposed to that, is huge," Johnson said. "To learn some of the fundamentals -- even though I grew up playing baseball, I really didn't have exposure to Twins coaches."

John Wilkens was one of the coaches Saturday at Woodbury. A former University of Minnesota baseball player, Wilkens instructed the kids on how to properly throw the ball, showing them the essentials of keeping their front shoulder aimed at their target.

But he also preached a broader message that fit in line with what the "Play Ball" initiative is all about: Get outside and play baseball.

"Play catch," Wilkens told the kids. "I'll tell you what, when it was a day like this outside, I wasn't inside watching TV or playing games or on the computer. I was outside all day long."

Saturday's skills clinic was one of several "Play Ball" events hosted by the Twins this weekend. On Friday, reliever Michael Tonkin and infielder Jorge Polanco played baseball with kids at Whittier International Elementary School in Minneapolis. There was also a skills clinic in Robbinsdale, Minn., on Saturday. At Target Field before Sunday's game, groups of kids will participate in Play Ball skills games.

Many of the kids at Bielenberg Sports Complex had on Twins apparel of some sort as they absorbed the messages passed on by the coaches. The parents on hand to watch their kids also appreciated seeing the organization out and about in the community.

"You know the quality is going to be there as far as the coaching side of it," Johnson said. "But also the respect for the Twins as an organization, to be able to support that and be in the community and give back."

As Wilkens addressed one group of 6- to 9-year-olds after their lesson on throwing before they rotated to the hitting station, he left the young Twins fans with one more message.

"Put a little time in. I don't care if it's reading, if it's spelling, if it's math, or whatever," he said. "You've got to put time in if you want to be good."

Tyler Mason is a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.