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Hank Aaron Invitational offers glimpse of future

Dawson, Clark impart big league wisdom as two-week camp wraps up
August 1, 2019

VERO BEACH, Fla. -- As this year's Hank Aaron Invitational draws to a close, it was once again fitting that a city and stadium so imbued with history should be home to much of baseball's future. It was a meeting of baseball minds from all walks of life on Wednesday,

VERO BEACH, Fla. -- As this year's Hank Aaron Invitational draws to a close, it was once again fitting that a city and stadium so imbued with history should be home to much of baseball's future.

It was a meeting of baseball minds from all walks of life on Wednesday, as Hall of Famer Andre Dawson, Michigan coach Erik Bakich and MLB Players Association executive director Tony Clark spoke to an audience of high school baseball players, teeming with enthusiasm, at the newly renamed Jackie Robinson Training Complex.

Though the youngsters heard many words of advice from those who'd walked the steps of long, fruitful baseball careers, Clark spoke passionately about one of the most important lessons of all.

"Somebody decided to make sure that the opportunity that you have, that I had, was better than it was beforehand," Clark said to the hushed group of players before him. "If I can leave you with one thing, appreciate the opportunity that you have. Appreciate the opportunity that you have, and then turn around and give it back."

Players listened intently as the MLBPA director imparted his words of wisdom. Though Clark was spirited in his advocacy of respect and humility, his appreciation for the next generation shone through every word.

"As we look out each year, as we see this camp continue to grow, as we see the talent continue to improve year in and year out," Clark said, "it's hard not to be excited about what we're seeing, what tomorrow may look like, all against the backdrop of the hope and opportunity that these kids continue to excel and develop, not just as players but as young men."

As Clark reminisced on the history of Dodgertown, home to the Hank Aaron Invitational the past five years, he recalled not only the young players whom he has seen emerge from the program but also those who have helped build the sport from his days as both student and mentor.

"It's a reminder of the path that was paved for guys like me and others when these young men have an opportunity to follow their dream in a similar fashion," he said.

Clark spoke the evening's final words, but he was not the only heavy-hitting speaker that offered perspective to the next generation of baseball talent.

Dawson, endeared as "The Hawk" during a 21-year career in the Majors, spoke to the high schoolers after they played their abbreviated morning game.

Though his words of advice were received earnestly from his veteran presence, he was excited about the opportunity to speak to those who wished to walk in his shoes.

"I didn't have this," Dawson said. "I didn't have the opportunity to work with players that had Major League experience, to listen to them actually speak and talk. So for me, it's an honor because this is the future of the game."

For some of the players in attendance, the veteran perspectives seemed from another world -- one they dreamed of one day living.

For others, it was perhaps a summation of a life they'd already glimpsed. Such was the case for ballplayers Jaden Sheffield and Carsten Sabathia.

Jaden, son of former All-Star Gary Sheffield, spoke on the many lessons connected across the program's two weeks, but focused on one piece of advice from Wednesday in particular.

"One of the things I heard today that really stuck out to me is that first impressions matter and that effort gets you a long way," he said.

And although he looks up to his father as his greatest influence and role model, he has his heart set on taking it one step further.

"I aspire not to be him, but to be better than him," he finished with a smile.

Carsten, son of Yankees pitcher CC Sabathia, appreciated the opportunity to share this program experience with the young men around him.

"It's been amazing," Carsten said of being included with this group of players. "We all have one thing in common and that's baseball and the love for it, so it's awesome."

Like Jaden, Carsten also mentioned one piece of the day's advice that he took to heart after Coach Bakich offered his insight.

"I think it's just consistency," he said. "Just every day, you have to make sure you're consistent in everything you do. Coach [Bakich] said, 'Anything you do is like everything you do.'"

Those acting as mentors during the two-week invitational shared their hopes for the showcase, but Reggie Waller, coordinator for the MLBPA, explained the program's mission as well as any.

"More than anything else, it's really trying to get African-American kids and some inner-city kids back involved in the game of baseball," Waller said. "So we're trying to make sure these guys fall in love with the game as we fell in love with the game."