Just in time for baseball season, a lucky group of youngsters got the chance to “play ball” with a few New York Yankees legends.
The St. Kevin’s parish, Flushing, Youth Sports Guild held its sixth annual baseball clinic April 2 in the gymnasium of St. Kevin’s Catholic Academy.
This year, former Yankees Mickey Rivers, Chris Chambliss and Oscar Gamble offered their expertise in baseball drills, including hitting, fielding and pitching.
“This is a wonderful way for them (the children) to learn playing skills,” said Bishop Ray Chappetto, St. Kevin’s pastor and an avid baseball fan. “They come here to learn from these men who played baseball professionally, so it’s great to have them teaching the kids. It’s an honor to have them here at St. Kevin’s parish.”
John Bonanno, vice president of the Youth Sports Guild and the clinic’s coordinator, has been longtime friends with Gamble, who suggested he would invite some of his former Yankees’ teammates from the mid-1970s to this year’s clinic.
“They are more than happy do it,” Bonanno said of the former pros. “They’re all very accommodating because they love children, and they didn’t have it when they were a kid so they figured that they would give back to the community.”
Children from St. Kevin’s and other Catholic Youth Organization baseball parishes took part in the event. After each session, the MLB players signed autographs and posed for pictures, especially with the parents who remember vividly watching these Yankees greats growing up.
“The parents’ eyes are lighting up when they see these players more so than the kids,” Bonanno said. “They see these guys, and they become the little children.”
The pros know that at the early stages of learning the game, the fundamentals are what matter most.
“We try to teach them how to pay attention to what they’re doing,” said Gamble, an outfielder who played 17 years in the big leagues. “We put them into positions and teach them the right way to throw the ball.”
“When I’m with young people like this, I get down to really basic things,” said Chambliss, whose home run in the 1976 playoffs clinched the American League pennant for the Yankees over the Kansas City Royals. “There are so many different styles of hitting, and the dangerous part is to teach everybody the same thing.”
While the basics of baseball are of course important, Rivers was sure to offer this main piece of advice to young ballplayers.
“If you do good in school, baseball will be easy and any other sport will be easy,” Mick “The Quick” said. “The main key is that school comes first.”
As they picked up tips from the former pros, the kids realized just how lucky they were to be learning from baseball legends.
“I feel really special because these amazing pros once played in the Major Leagues, and I think that’s basically every little kid’s dream to play in the Major Leagues,” said Shawn Moffett, an eighth-grade utility player for St. Kevin’s.
Maybe the next Mickey Rivers, Chris Chambliss or Oscar Gamble was in the gym that day. But even if not, a group of young baseball players now have a memory they will never forget, and that is what the St. Kevin’s clinic is all about.
Contact Jim Mancari via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.