Players, coaches give back at Legends Clinic

Former MLB player Duncan making difference in his hometown

TUCSON, Ariz. -- Growing up in Tucson, Shelley Duncan found his baseball heaven.

Now, he's trying to help bring it back.

Duncan, a former big league player and the current manager of the Hillsboro Hops, the D-backs' Class A affiliate, helped run the MLBPA Legends For Youth Baseball Clinic on Saturday at Kino Sports Complex.

Current and former Major League coaches and players alike helped coach the event, which was offered for free to area kids ranging in ages from 6-14.

Some of the notable assistants included Orioles shortstop J.J. Hardy, Dodgers reliever Adam Liberatore, former Gold Glove Award winner Kenny Lofton and former D-backs manager and current A's third-base coach Chip Hale. Each spent significant time in the area either growing up or in college, and now they are trying to bring the baseball culture to the area.

"Baseball in Tucson is like the Mecca in the [United States]," Duncan said. "USA Baseball was here at one time. Arizona baseball was at its peak in the mid- or late '80s, early '90s. The Tucson Toros were here. Spring Training was here. That was the environment we grew up in."

Duncan's baseball "Mecca" has lost its luster in recent years. USA Baseball moved its headquarters from Tucson in 2003 after an extended stint in the area. The Tucson Toros, a popular Minor League affiliate to several clubs, moved in 2010.

Duncan wanted to come and help bring a change. Saturday marked his sixth year heading the event, continuing his participation even after retiring in 2013 following a Major League career with the Yankees, Indians and Rays. A recent College World Series championship by the nearby University of Arizona in 2012 (and title appearance in '16) has also contributed, though Duncan now wants to create even more opportunities for kids to learn the game.

"I was born and raised here, and when I was growing up, there was never anything like this," Duncan said. "I've just been getting tired with all these people setting up camps that charge $100 a pop, and most of the kids in Tucson couldn't afford it."

Saturday's event cycled kids through a circuit of throwing, hitting, stretching, outfield and infield exercises. It also taught some of the kids life lessons Duncan hopes can groom the next crop of elite baseball talent in southern Arizona.

"The one thing I wish I could pass on to every kid is just to play the game with fun and passion," Duncan said. "I know too many times where fundamentals and winning gets drilled into the kids at such a young age. It just adds on pressure and takes away from the fun. You don't see too many kids playing for the love of the game anymore, and if we can just find ways to get them to have fun, it's special."