Rockies host National Play Campaign

Players, training staff educate local youth on nutrition, exercise

Rockies host National Play Campaign

DENVER -- Who says you can't get outside and be active on a rainy day in May?

It helps when you've got a big league ballpark to make use of, and the Rockies made full use of Coors Field on Saturday to give about 50 children the chance to learn from Major League players and try some of the training equipment the big leaguers use to hone their craft.

The two-hour clinic was part of the National PLAY Campaign -- Promoting a Lifetime of Activity for Youth -- and was started in 2004 by the Professional Baseball Athletic Trainers Society.

The national program runs clinics in every Major League ballpark and in many Minor League ballparks, having offered over 300 events reaching tens of thousands of young people with a positive message that the organizers hope will lead to a lifetime of healthy living.

"It began when we started seeing secondary physical education taken away from schools and we were seeing childhood obesity increase, and children's diabetes increase," said Keith Dugger, head athletic trainer for the Rockies, one of the founding clubs of PLAY.

"We just wanted to get the word out and kind of use our voice that you don't have to play organized sports, just be active and be outside. With all the development of electronic devices, we want kids to get outside and enjoy nature."

Though the wet weather kept the kids off the diamond at Coors Field, the Rockies set up stations throughout the ballpark, including the chance to go through agility drills with Rockies infielder Pat Valaika, a throwing session with catcher Tom Murphy, a special session in the indoor batting cages with outfielder David Dahl and batting practice pitcher Garrett Carson as well as a tour of the clubhouse and training facilities with Dugger.

"Hitting lately, I've been doing really good, but I can't seem to hit it over the fence," said Melony Fye, a softball player with the Northern Colorado Sting and Eaton High School. "But I had one of the players today who showed me what I need to do."

Fye and her brother, Sawyer, were among those who got individualized tips from Carson, and the difference was evident immediately, as they put what they learned to use in the batting cage.

"He told us to stay down on the ball," Sawyer Fye said. "He showed us how Nolan Arenado follows through and keeps his bat up so he gets more backspin and it travels farther."

Though the kids were primarily diehard baseball fans, the day was about much more than baseball. The event began with a brief talk from Donald Hooton, Jr. who spoke about his brother Taylor's tragic experience with performance enhancing drugs. Using his brother's teenage suicide as a springboard for discussion, Hooton gave the kids a quick overview of the dangers of PED use.

Beyond the baseball wisdom, the participants picked up unexpected knowledge after seeing the athletes' intensive focus on healthy behavior.

"I enjoyed learning about all the nutrition and what you can do for your body and how you can build up your body to do better physically," Melony Fye said.

The Rockies personnel taking part in the clinic relished the opportunity to give a new generation the exposure and encouragement to lead the kind of active lives they often took for granted.

"A few off-seasons ago, I gave lessons to kids these ages," Valaika said. "It's fun to see them learn and pick up things pretty fast. Hopefully they can incorporate it into continuing playing."

Ultimately, the clinic, provided a bridge to help the youth internalize some of lessons of baseball and apply them to the increasingly important challenge of making healthy choices and leading an active life.

"I learned that swings are personal and you just develop your own," said Blake Carlson, who lit up the radar gun at 65 mph and found affirmation in the emphasis on individuality. "You don't have to change everything to be good."

Owen Perkins is a contributor to MLB.com based in Denver. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.