NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- Most children involved in the game of baseball dream for a chance to meet, and possibly learn from, an active or retired professional, and the Major League Baseball Players Alumni Association made that happen for a group of kids on Tuesday night.
The MLBPAA held a free youth instruction clinic, sponsored by the AWC Family Foundation, for kids in Nashville, Tenn., and the surrounding area in an attempt to teach kids the fundamentals of the game and instill them with valuable knowledge on how to conduct themselves on and off the field as they grow older and strive for the big leagues.
There were six former players that agreed to show up, get involved and lead in the instructional activities: reliever Joe Boever, outfielder Sam Bowen, reliever Don Gordan, reliever Craig Skok, starting pitcher John Van Benschoten and outfielder Herm Winningham.
"It's my duty," Winningham said on teaching children the game of baseball. "If I can become a Major League baseball player, maybe one day one of these kids can have the aspiration to become a Major League player.
"Why not give [the game] to [the kids]," Winningham said. "I can't play it anymore, and the knowledge that I have should be given back to these kids."
"It's really special, because I want to be one of them one day," said Nashville native and clinic participant Palmer Thombs, who plays baseball for Montgomery Bell Academy, where Blue Jays knuckleballer R.A. Dickey attended high school.
Winningham was taken by the New York Mets with the ninth overall pick in the 1981 Draft and he went on to play nine seasons with four different organizations, including the 1990 World Series champion Reds.
"I've been with the alumni for almost 20 years, and I enjoy teaching young kids the proper way to do things," Skok said. "Maybe they'll pick up something during this clinic that they can use."
Skok was signed by the Red Sox as an amateur free agent in 1969 out of Florida State University and he spent four seasons split among the Red Sox, Rangers and Braves.
After the clinic, Skok met with the kids at home plate and discussed the importance of making the right decisions as they progress through life, and possibly baseball.
"It's fun," Skok said on speaking with the children after the clinic. "My main purpose in this session, at the end, is to let these kids know that they're parents are the most important parts of their lives."
"Well, it's great," Boever, who coached in his first instructional clinic with MLB, said of the event. "Kids all love the game of baseball, and it's good to be here and try to teach them the correct way to play the game."
Boever sustained a long and successful 12-year career with seven different organizations while amassing a solid 3.93 career ERA. Bowen was drafted by the Red Sox in the seventh round of the 1974 Draft and played three seasons in the Majors.
"I'll tell you what, it's special," Bowen said of being able to teach young players the game. "I should be paying to come out here, because it's fun."
Gordan was taken in the 31st round in 1982, and he spent three seasons in the Major Leagues with both the Blue Jays and Indians.
"My father died when I was very young, so my coaches and my teachers really became my mentors, heroes and influences in my life, so to be able to give back to the game is a great privilege," Gordan said. "The kids, I thought, were great, and they were very well behaved and attentive."
Van Benschoten said that he works with children in order to show them that making it to the Major Leagues is not impossible and that they can reach the goals that they dream about by working hard.
"Hopefully, we can let these kids know that [being a professional] is all possible," Van Benschoten, who coached in his second clinic with MLB, said. "We're telling these kids there's a chance that can happen and that we [professionals] do exist."
Van Benschoten was taken by the Pirates with the eighth overall pick in the 2001 Draft and he went on to appear in three seasons with Pittsburgh.
"Hard work," Winningham said on what he tries to stress to the kids he teaches. "Nothing comes easy, and it's a small window to become a professional athlete."
Mack Burke is a contributor to MLB.com.