Players Association hosts free clinic for San Diego kids

Standing in the middle of a sun-drenched field at the University of California-San Diego and surrounded by more than 300 kids going through drills and learning new skills, Players Association executive director Tony Clark saw the future of baseball.

 "Our fraternity is celebrating its 50th anniversary this year, and we've been honoring the players who made baseball what it is today," Clark said. "But when I see all of these boys and girls showing such joy and passion for our game, I can't help but think we're getting a glimpse of the promise in the next 50 years."

As part of the All-Star Game festivities in San Diego, Clark wanted to make a contribution to the community where he grew up and learned the game, so the Players Association held a free clinic for kids who love baseball in the San Diego area on Saturday morning. It was called the Tony Clark Going Home Youth Baseball Clinic.

Former Major Leaguers providing hands-on instruction in addition to Clark were Hall-of-Famer Dave Winfield (who began his 22-year big league career with the Padres), Heath Bell, Bobby Bonilla, Phil Bradley, Jose Cruz Jr., Jeffrey Hammonds, Mark Loretta, Sergio Mitre, Broderick Perkins, Rob Picciolo, Chris Richard, Steve Rogers, Kevin Slowey, Javier Vazquez and Tye Waller.

"This is like heaven for these kids and the community where we're bringing this together," said Winfield, who spent the first eight seasons of his 22-year career in San Diego. "We're proud to do this on Tony's behalf and for the Players Association."

The youngsters invited to the clinic included the children of local military personnel as well from the youth leagues in which Clark participated while growing up in San Diego -- de Oro Senior League, Encanto Boys & Girls Club, Encanto Little League, Jackie Robinson Family YMCA, Lemon Grove Little League, Monterey Heights Elementary School, Montgomery Middle School, Palm Junior High School and Police Athletic League. 

 "It brings a smile to my face to see all the kids out here having such a good time," said Bell, another local hero who led the NL with 42 saves as the Padres' closer in 2009. "These kids are outside and running around in the sun and being kids."

The clinic -- managed by Pro Camps Worldwide, presented by the Major League Baseball Players Trust and sponsored by Dick's Sporting Goods, Pepsi, Aquafina, Gatorade, Topps, New Era and Karl Kani -- brought together a wealth of talented coaches and athletes to provide hands-on instruction to the kids, including fun competitions for prizes.

"My favorite part was hitting and pitching, and I learned that I need to keep my balance when I'm fielding grounders," said 10-year-old Lucia Meza, who plays in the Mission Bay Little League.

Each participant received an equipment bag that included a baseball glove, a MLBPA 50th Anniversary commemorative baseball autographed by Clark and a photo with the former Major League players.

"The most fun part was learning new stuff," said Hayden Viczarra, who also plays in the Mission Bay Little League.

"It was amazing to see all the players I hadn't seen before."