BALTIMORE -- A day with a professional baseball player is a great day for any young softball or baseball player. But, a day spent with Adam Jones was a dream come true for 15-year-old center fielder Kevin Gamble Jr.Gamble Jr. is a freshman in high school who has played many
BALTIMORE -- A day with a professional baseball player is a great day for any young softball or baseball player. But, a day spent with Adam Jones was a dream come true for 15-year-old center fielder Kevin Gamble Jr.
Gamble Jr. is a freshman in high school who has played many sports throughout his childhood, but his father, Kevin Gamble Sr., said that baseball is probably his son's primary sport -- although he wasn't quite sure if Gamble Jr. would want to continue his baseball career in college.
After finding out about the Baltimore City Youth Baseball and Softball Clinic at the beginning of his baseball season, Gamble Jr. had been counting down the days until he got to spend time playing baseball with his center-field idol. With many of his teammates and coaches attending, Gamble Jr. called his dad again last week to double check that his dream was really about to become a reality.
On Saturday, Gamble Jr. was one of about 300 participants at the ninth-annual Baltimore City youth baseball and softball clinic, which coincided with the "PLAY BALL" initiative between Major League Baseball, USA Baseball and USA Softball, which encourages widespread participation in all forms of baseball/softball activities among all age groups, especially youth.
Most of the participants Saturday were also involved in the Orioles' RBI (Reviving Baseball in Inner Cities) Program.Along with Jones, coaches Wayne Kirby and Jett Ruiz and former Orioles Ken Dixon, Rick Krivda, and Al Bumbry were in attendance to help teach baseball and softball fundamentals to the city's youth at Radecke Park in Baltimore.
After starting at a station with Krivda learning the fundamentals of pitching, Gamble Jr. moved to a hitting station with Bumbry. Each player took turns hitting Wiffle balls off of a tee and learning to keep their eyes on the ball to make solid contact on each swing. Finally, after a long wait, Gamble Jr. headed to the fielding station with Kirby and, most importantly, Jones.
The kids started in the infield taking ground balls at third base before moving into Gamble Jr.'s territory in the outfield. The young center fielder listened intently to Jones' instruction on how to play his beloved position as Gamble Sr. stood off to the side taking pictures of his son's dreams coming true.
"It's a great opportunity for me, but it just shows how much [Jones] cares about the community and kids younger than him to play baseball," Gamble Jr. said. "He gave me a lot of helpful tips. I play center field too, so he gave me a lot of tips about crow hopping, catching the ball with one hand and stuff like that."
Sure, Jones could have had his clinic at Camden Yards, but both the Gambles and Jones believe that would have taken away from the experience.
"Because this is the reality of the world," Jones said. "Camden Yards is not reality. Camden Yards is one of the toughest places ever to get to -- the Major Leagues. This is reality of baseball, so bring it to reality, not just show everybody cookie-cutter things.
"You got to come to the streets. You got to come to the inner city. This is where baseball started. This is where I started -- not here in Baltimore, but on fields like this. I'm a non-fiction type of person."
Jones' initiative is to give kids the resources and an opportunity to play baseball, and his clinic today sparked more interest in the sport to Gamble Jr. than what he already had. Even though Gamble's father was unsure if his son would continue a baseball career, Gamble Jr. now says he hopes to go on to the University of Florida to continue to play center field, just like Jones.
The second annual Play Ball Weekend features a variety of youth engagement activities by nearly 200 Major League and Minor League clubs to highlight the fun of youth baseball and softball. It is a complementary program of the Play Ball initiative, designed by MLB to celebrate youth baseball and softball participation. MLB has provided clubs with more than 300,000 youth plastic bat and ball sets to distribute in both ballparks and at community events.
Many MLB clubs are hosting skills and physical fitness clinics as well as surprise "takeovers" of youth baseball and softball games or practices featuring appearances by Major League players, alumni, mascots, public address announcers and more. Activities will include kids participating in special news conferences, pregame meet-and-greets and catches with players, ceremonial first pitches, public address duties, lineup card exchanges, taking the field with players, postgame running the bases and more. Major League players, coaches and managers will wear Play Ball Weekend patches during the weekend's games, and players on home clubs will wear custom T-shirts during batting practice on the date of their club's activations.
Teams that are on the road Saturday and Sunday will host their Play Ball Weekend activities during another homestand.
Mandy Bell is an associate reporter for MLB.com based in Baltimore.