Mets host home run derby for youth to promote healthy lifestyle
By Nick Suss
NEW YORK -- Before any Mets or Marlins players arrived at Citi Field Tuesday, fans gathered in the stands and on the field to watch a home run derby.
But this derby had a purpose, and the purpose ran counter to many of the stigmas placed on power hitting. It was a home run derby to promote healthy living and advocate against the use of performance-enhancing drugs.
Representatives from the Professional Baseball Athletic Trainers Society, in conjunction with the Henry Schein Cares Foundation and the Taylor Hooton Foundation, gathered more than 40 youth baseball players from the Queens area to Citi Field Tuesday to promote the importance of healthy, active lifestyles.
Though this was a clinic at Citi Field, it wasn't the run-of-the-mill baseball skills camp. No one focused on the technical fundamentals of throwing or fielding. Rather, the kids eschewed gear altogether in favor of training the way the pros do. The Mets training staff came out onto the field and ran a circuit of stretching and cardio exercises before letting the kids loose to play some schoolyard games, like sharks and minnows.
However, the main focus of the day wasn't the drills. Before the kids even stepped foot on the field, they heard a speech from Don Hooton of the Hooton Foundation about the dangers of anabolic steroids. Hooton began his speech bluntly, explaining that his younger brother died as a teenager due to complications involved with taking P.E.Ds. Using his experiential knowledge, Hooton warned the youths of the dangers of not just steroids, but also protein and dietary supplements, especially for children under the age of 18.
After hearing Hooton's talk, all of the little leaguers agreed to take a pledge to be a member of the foundation's "All-Me Team," a team that prides itself on being P.E.D. free and has 33 Big League representatives, including Mets second baseman Neil Walker.
That said, the kids were the most excited during two other parts of the afternoon. First, they had the opportunity to swing at a wiffle ball off a tee from the outfield, and they competed to see who could hit the most balls over the fence. The winners had the opportunity to move the tee back even further and see who could show off the best power-hitting prowess.
But the excitement of the makeshift derby paled in comparison to when the kids had the opportunity to meet Mets outfielder Brandon Nimmo, who came out to explain his daily and weekly health routines. After he spoke, Nimmo allowed the kids to ask him questions, and the queries ranged from what hitting home runs is like, to whether or not he and David Wright are best friends.
Once the kids had met Nimmo, it was time to call it a day. But the kids didn't go home empty-handed. They left with autographs from Nimmo, who signed anything the kids could give him, as well as a health-conscious goody bag stocked with sunscreen, toothpaste and a checklist to enforce proper habits.
As for Nimmo, he left with a bit of competition hanging over his head.
Yelled one kid as he left the field: "I'll see you in 10 years, Nimmo."
Nick Suss is a reporter for MLB.com This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.