Yanks Minor Leaguers take part in HOPE Week

Yanks Minor Leaguers take part in HOPE Week

Yanks Minor Leaguers take part in HOPE Week
TAMPA -- Yankees pitching prospect Leonel Vinas defines the fundamental message of the HOPE Week Initiative (Helping Others Persevere & Excel) going on this week in Tampa.

Vinas' story -- going from being a gang member in Long Island, to being influenced by Herman Hernandez, to joining Hank's Yanks, to eventually signing a Minor League contract with the organization -- is well-documented.

On Tuesday, Vinas, 20, along with five other players from the Yankees' extended spring training roster, spent about two hours at the Tampa Police Athletic League club, just a short drive from George M. Steinbrenner Field. The players -- including Jake Anderson, Daniel Lopez, Jose Rosario and Adam Silva -- spoke with 30 underprivileged kids about the commitment and hard work it takes to succeed in life and in baseball at the complex before taking part in a baseball clinic.

"This brings back memories of going through the things I went through, and it makes me feel good to be able to help in some way for these kids," said Vinas, who went 2-1 with a 9.69 ERA over 14 games as a reliever last season for the Gulf Coast League Yankees.

Alex Cotto, who is in his sixth year as the Yankees' assistant director of international operations, said he suggested involving the Minor League affiliates for the HOPE Week events as a way to introduce the younger players early on to the influence they have as professional athletes. Cotto also thought it would allow people in the Tampa area to realize the Yankees organization is involved year-round and not just during Spring Training.

"Some of these players, like Vinas, epitomize what HOPE Week is all about," said Cotto, whose cousin is boxer Miguel Cotto. "This gives the younger players a chance to see how important they are in the community. It also lets people know the organization has affiliates here and the players are just as much of the community and want to be a positive influence."

Cotto, who played baseball under former Major League pitcher Luis Tiant at the Savannah College of Art and Design, has been taking a group of American baseball players in the Yankees' Minor League system to the organization's Latin complex in Boca Chica, a town in the Santo Domingo province of the Dominican Republic, for a little over six years. During the two weeks of clinics, the Yankees' group donates clothing, shoes, athletic equipment and other items, while also instructing hundreds of local children.

On Tuesday, Cotto gave the same type of discussion he uses in the Dominican about how maintaining hope and using a positive environment in the midst of struggle can lead to success in one's life.

"Having the kids hear about what it takes to succeed and having these players here is important to their self-esteem and self-confidence," said Ricky Wade, a co-director of community relations for PAL. "To see how these players are regular people and to know someone like [what Vinas] went through, the same stuff they might be going through, gives them hope."

After the educational session with the children, who ranged in age from 10-14, the players played Wiffle ball with the kids for an hour.

"It's awesome to have them out here," said Nicholas Counts, 10, who attends Mendenhall Elementary School in Tampa.

Counts said his favorite baseball player of all time is Babe Ruth, but he would start following the players who were in attendance at PAL.

Laura DiRosa, 11, said having the players visit gives the kids a reason to keep working hard in school and sports.

"It's interesting to see them out here, because it gives you the chance to see they're real," DiRosa said. "It was great having them out here playing ball with us."

The HOPE Week continues Wednesday, when players will visit some of the children in the recovery unit of the Shriners Hospital in Tampa.

Chris Girandola is a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.