Former MLB players preach hard work on and off the field at Tampa clinic

Orestes Destrade, other MLB alumni hold free youth clinic for underprivileged youth

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. -- It was more than showing kids how to grip a baseball, swing a bat or hustle around the bases.

When eight former big leaguers gathered Saturday morning for the Major League Baseball Players Alumni Association's (MLBPAA) "Legends for Youth Clinic'' at Tropicana Field, they had a larger message.

"Play hard … with an exclamation point,'' said Orestes Destrade, who is the Tampa Bay Rays Director of Baseball and Community Outreach. "But study harder … with two exclamation points.

"Education is so dramatically important. The better athletes are the smarter athletes. And when baseball ends, being smart can get you a good job, set you up for a nice life and really make your family and friends very proud of you.''

Destrade and fellow MLBPAA members Grant Balfour, Mike Devereaux, John Frascatore, Tom Hume, David LaPoint, Tom Niedenfuer and Richie Scheinblum worked with 76 players from Burg Baseball, a non-profit organization that provides baseball opportunities for unprivileged youth in the St. Petersburg area.

Whether it was a T-baller playing in his first season or an eighth-grader who hopes to make his high school team, everybody found some constructive lessons during the fast-moving, two-hour clinic on the Trop's freshly installed outfield turf.

"It is super exciting for the little ones because a lot of them have never even been in this stadium,'' said Charles Castle, the president and founder of Burg Baseball. "When they come in here, they are in awe. A lot of the parents are in awe, too.

"It builds the enthusiasm of their young baseball lives. This shows them so many things they would never see.''

It was Balfour demonstrating how to throw a four-seam fastball.

"Everybody wants to throw hard,'' Balfour said. "But the biggest thing you need to do is throw strikes.''

It was Devereaux providing tips on how to play in the outfield.

"The key to catching the ball is seeing the ball,'' Devereaux said. "And you need to know where to go with the ball before it comes to you. So you need to always be thinking out there.''

It was Hume showing the proper way to square and lay down a bunt.

"The little things mean a lot in this game,'' Hume said.

Castle said he believed that Saturday's clinic would create a greater appreciation for the necessary baseball skills.

"When I look out here, I see development,'' Castle said. "Development with these youngsters is like watching grass grow. You're always getting a new milestone.

 "It's, 'Oh, he can turn and throw' or 'Oh, he's standing in and hitting or 'Oh, he can catch the ball' or 'Oh, he's got the thumb down.' Every small milestone is just another click of growth for these guys.''

Destrade, a native of Cuba who mostly grew up in Miami, said he had some exposure to the Cuban-born MLB players who lived in his area. That made an impact and motivated him to pursue baseball as a career.

He saw the same connection developing on Saturday.

"You're practicing with a professional,'' Destrade said. "Equally as big is where you are practicing. A lot of times you're working out at your Little League field. But now these kids are at a Major League stadium.

"They're walking on the same turf where Kevin Kiermaier plays, where Evan Longoria plays. For the kids who are really passionate about baseball, that has to be very special.''

Balfour, who grew up in Australia, could only follow MLB players from afar. He remembers being part of clinics with high-level players from his country.

"I looked up to those guys,'' Balfour said. "Hopefully some of these kids will be out there playing in the MLB some day, and they can tell the same story.''

All of the MLBPAA members were intent on leaving a positive impression.

"We want kids to get out there and play, whether it's baseball, whether it's basketball, whether it's swimming,'' Destrade said. "They need to keep doing things because there's a problem with obesity and there's a problem with getting stuck playing those computer games.

"I think it's imperative that we give back to the kids and help show them the way. That's why we're here. Not everybody can make it as a professional [baseball player]. But we can all learns skills through the game that will help us be productive adults.''

Balfour and Destrade said they were honored to be part of the MLBPAA's efforts.

"I really commend the organization for being involved and putting on events like this,'' Balfour said.

"In baseball, people really remember the players and the game's history, probably more than any other sport,'' Destrade said. "I think the MLBPAA does an incredible job of pushing the [former] players out there and putting them in the right positions. Some of us haven't played in a quite a few years, but we're still able to give back, and it's a privilege to do so.''