MLB alumni inspire kids at Tempe clinic

Parents, participants impressed by Legends for Youth event

TEMPE, Ariz. -- Quincy Stewart didn't expect his son, Langston, to look like Derek Jeter on Saturday, when former Major League pitcher Blas Minor threw ground balls and taught children the fundamentals of fielding.

Stewart didn't mind when Langston heaved the ball over Minor's head. He was just happy to see his son paying attention to Minor and five other members of the Major League Baseball Players Alumni Association at a Legends for Youth Clinic on a backfield near Tempe Diablo Stadium, spring home of the Angels.

"My son's 6, and he's engaged. I'm impressed,'' Stewart said. "I'll give him a super high five. I'm proud of him for paying attention.''

Stewart and other parents, who sat in the dugouts and watched the clinic, were equally impressed with the patience of the instructors, who spent about three hours teaching baseball fundamentals to more than 40 children.

Children, aged 6-15, separated into small groups and worked with instructors, including former relief pitcher and 1981 All-Star Ron Davis, on fielding, throwing and running the bases.

"The facilities are really nice. How often do you get an opportunity to get a professional player teach you the fundamentals of the game?'' said Jason Marler of Phoenix, who coaches his son Roman's youth league team.

"He's still pretty excited,'' Marler said, even after Roman played in a game earlier that day and spent several hours in the sun. "It must have went very well.''

Michael Bridgeman, another parent, said he never had an opportunity to receive such high quality coaching as a boy.

"It instills a love of baseball into them at a young age,'' he said.

Nina Hudemann Perron, who grew up playing girls softball near Stuttgart, Germany, took her son to a clinic in Scottsdale in the fall. She brought him again to the Tempe clinic because he enjoyed it so much.

"I like it that the kids can learn from the professionals. It's a great opportunity for them,'' she said.

Mike Groll, vice president of operations for MLBPAA, said his organization has 7,000 members and will sponsor 185 clinics throughout the nation this year.

He said the association's members enjoy the clinics as much as the children who attend, hoping to give back and to encourage children to play.

"I think there are a lot of life lessons that carry over from sports,'' Groll said.

The children seemed to enjoy themselves, generally paying close attention to the instructors, with a few exceptions.

Minor said during some closing remarks that he ordered two kids to run to the center-field wall and back from the shortstop position because they were fooling around and not paying attention.

He spelled out the word "Ace'' to the children and said it stood for attitude, concentration and effort.

"You have the ability to control your attitude, your concentration and your effort,'' Minor said.

He said his focus is to share his knowledge of baseball and keeping the game alive by encouraging children to play.

Several parents, including Hudemann Perron, said they want to encourage their children to go outside and play, staying active, rather than staring at a television or computer all day.

"I just want to make sure I am not keeping it to myself, that I am sharing with others,'' said Minor, a former relief pitcher with the Pirates and Mets, who is now a battalion chief with the Chandler, Arizona, fire department.

Davis gave the children a quick lesson on the fundamentals of pitching from a stretch position, showing them how to step, plant and follow through properly, mixing in a heavy dose of humor.

"Why did I get the prettiest girl in Arizona?'' he asked at one point. "Because I could play baseball.''

But Davis is proud that three generations of his family have played in the Major Leagues, including his son, Ike, a first baseman, now with the Dodgers, and his uncle, Red Murff, a former pitcher with the Milwaukee Braves, who is a scout. 

"Believe it or not, a lot of us played for the love of the game,'' said Ron Davis, who still coaches youth baseball and believes strongly that baseball can have a positive influence on the lives of young people.