Former Reds OF coaches at Urban Youth Academy's Breakthrough Series
By Cody Pace
CINCINNATI -- When former Reds outfielder George Foster arrived in Cincinnati in 1971, he knew exactly who he wanted to be like.
"The guy that really stands out is the Hall of Famer Tony Perez. I tried to pattern not only my hitting, but my approach after Tony Perez," Foster said. "I wanted to be a clutch hitter like him, but to be a clutch hitter, you have to be able to utilize the whole field -- so being able to hit the ball, being a right-hander, from left-center on over to right-center."
While the approach didn't land Foster in the Hall of Fame, he went on to have a very successful career, posting a .274/.338/.480 line with 348 homers.
Now, in the same way Perez helped shape Foster's career, Foster is helping shape the careers of 60 youth from across the country at the third annual Breakthrough Series at the P&G Cincinnati MLB Urban Youth Academy.
"It's great to be part of the program here," Foster said. "Cincinnati's been a hotbed for talent, and they talk about diversity, but giving the minority players a chance to get exposure, and also get some experience, and being a part of it is great, because I feel like I have a lot of expertise to impart to them, so getting that opportunity, it means a lot for me."
Foster is serving as one of many former Major League players and coaches at the three-day showcase event at the Cincinnati Urban Youth Academy along with Dmitri Young, Jerry Manuel and many others.
The premier coaching staff is one of the many things that separates the event co-sponsored by MLB and USA Baseball from other showcase events.
"A lot of the coaches here are former Major League players that have played in the big leagues for a long time, and are willing to give their time to help young people from around the country get better, not only off the field, but on the field," said Tony Reagins, MLB's senior vice president of youth programs. "We think that's extremely important to our progress."
Foster is participating in the event for the first time. The opportunity came about during last year's All-Star festivities in Cincinnati, where Foster had the chance to meet employees who help coordinate the event.
"I played against big George and I played with George probably a little bit later," Manuel said. "George is, guys like George and Eric Davis, former Reds that come back and ask to be a part of this is really huge for us."
Foster's main duty throughout the week was in the batting cages and on the field during batting practice, helping the players with their hitting approach. Foster quietly observed each player in the cages with a pen and paper, jotting things down, and going over them with the players after they finished taking their swings.
"I look for bat speed, and when I see the bat speed, that's going to develop into power," Foster said. "Working on the fine-tuning of their swing, and letting them know that they've got to throw the bat, and not swing the bat, and understand that terminology. I think coming from somebody who's done it, it's more believable. But I'm letting them know it's going to take a lot to do it."
Cody Pace is a reporter for MLB.com based in Cincinnati. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.