ST. PETERSBURG -- Tropicana Field served as a baseball education center Saturday when the Rays hosted a coaching clinic for youth baseball.
Derek Shelton and Jim Hickey, the Rays hitting and pitching coaches, respectively, were there, as was Al Herback of Little League Baseball Canada, as part of an initiative launched by the Rays with Little League Baseball that will support nearly 70 leagues from eight surrounding districts.
The program will reach Little League T-ball teams in Hillsborough, Manatee, Pasco, Pinellas, Polk and Sarasota counties.
To support these programs, the Rays have committed to providing jerseys and caps to over 5,500 T-ball players and coaches in the region. The uniforms will include 18 variations of Rays colors and styles to give the region's young Little Leaguers a big league look. The jerseys are created by Majestic, the official uniform supplier of Major League Baseball.
"We've heard from so many Little Leagues and parents over the last few years that all the kids in their leagues want to be the Rays when teams are assigned," said Mark Fernandez, Rays senior vice president. "By partnering with Majestic, a local company and the official MLB provider, we were able to fulfill that request and at the same time allow the leagues to put their resources toward other needs."
The total savings from the project, as reported by the participating leagues, is estimated at over $115,000.
As a result of these savings, officials from some of the participating leagues have noted that they now have the ability to repair their scoreboards, provide paint upgrades to dugouts, add fencing for fields, fund new equipment purchases and grounds crew supplies and repair concession stands and other facilities.
To kick off the program, several districts from within Hillsborough and Pinellas counties were invited to the two-day clinic on Saturday and Sunday. Little League coaches attended Saturday's clinic to learn how to better coach their players, with Hickey, Shelton, and Herback all pitching in.
"It's an amazing thing for us," said Jennifer Barber, president of Holiday Little League. "Knowing how to play the game and coaching the game are two different things."
Little League players will attend Sunday's event, also held at Tropicana Field. Outfield hopeful Kevin Kiermaier and right-hander Jake Odorizzi will assist in Sunday's instruction.
"I think any time the organization gets involved with something like this, it's kind of cool," Shelton said. "Because you're trying to build the little kids into being Rays fans.
"I think the second thing is, from a hitting aspect, when you can develop good habits when you're starting to hit, that will help as you grow older and continue to play the game."
Bill Chastain is a reporter for MLB.com.