The D-backs opened Spring Training on Friday with an early morning as pitchers and catchers joined forces to prepare for the 2014 season. However, for four D-backs players the day ended with a visit to the Boys & Girls Club Komatke branch for some fun and games with kids from the Gila River Indian Community and a trip to the Vee Quiva Hotel & Casino to interact with fans.
Baxter warmed the crowd of kids ages five to 18, who spend every weekday after school at the Boys & Girls Club Komatke branch. Some even bused in from as far as Guadalupe and Sacaton. The kids were full of energy as Baxter showed a few kids how to move like Jagger, and even started the worm, before D-backs players Didi Gregorius, A.J. Pollock, Addison Reed and Archie Bradley walked into the gym to 80 smiling young faces.
For Reed, Friday was the first day of workouts in a D-backs uniform, and also his first community appearance. He explained that he hopes the community event will be a first of many and noted that the kickball baseball game was the highlight of the day.
The makeshift kickball game that combined a bit of baseball and kickball in one seemed to be the highlight for everyone.
"I liked the kickball today," said Pollock. "I liked having everyone in the gym because it reminded me of when I was a kid and recess was always the hectic part with everyone crammed into one area just having fun."
Although Gregorius won't officially report to camp until next Tuesday, he still took some time to visit with the kids and showed off his musical talents on the drums in the teen room during a Guitar Hero jam session.
"I played the drums and played really good," Gregorius said with a laugh. "Today was awesome. I played some Guitar Hero, ping pong, stacked some cups and played foosball. Interacting with the kids was great, it's not like we are any different. Everyone is the same just talking to each other and having fun."
Boys & Girls Komatke executive branch manager Jason Jones knows firsthand how much the visit from the players means to the kids. He explained that one of the best things from this experience would be if the kids go to school to tell their peers about the D-backs' visit in the hopes of encouraging more kids to come to Boys & Girls Club in the future.
"The first thing they will do is go home and tell their family," said Jones. "They are so excited to meet the players and just having this time with the players will hopefully inspire them to look at the possibility that they too could become a professional athlete one day."
The D-backs have had a long standing partnership with the Gila River Indian Community, and Friday's event marked the 16th annual Gila River Hometown Tour in which D-backs players visit with kids from the community each year. Gila River Casinos community liaison Manuel Hernandez recognizes how invaluable days like today are for the kids in the community, and to be able to have access to the players is a very special aspect of the partnership.
"Today's event gives the kids a good look at the D-backs and allows them to experience hands on activities with Baxter and the players," said Hernandez. "The kids are able to talk to the players as people, not the great big stars that they are. It gives the kids a good hometown feeling that the Diamondbacks are here for them."
After the high energy experience with the kids, the players headed down the road to Vee Quiva Hotel & Casino to sign autographs for 200 fans as part of the annual tradition.
Katie Krause is the D-backs' manager of corporate communications.