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Rockies host 175 kids for Play Ball Clinic

MLB.com

DENVER -- "Ian, watch this!" Emmanuel Mendez shouted across the field to Rockies outfielder Ian Desmond.

Clutching the plastic bat in his hands, Mendez furrowed his brow and eyed the Wiffle ball sitting on the tee. He wound up and swung his bat with all the strength the seven-year-old could muster. The ball flew across the field into Desmond's hands.

DENVER -- "Ian, watch this!" Emmanuel Mendez shouted across the field to Rockies outfielder Ian Desmond.

Clutching the plastic bat in his hands, Mendez furrowed his brow and eyed the Wiffle ball sitting on the tee. He wound up and swung his bat with all the strength the seven-year-old could muster. The ball flew across the field into Desmond's hands.

"Yes!" Mendez screamed and jumped up and down, happy to rally a hit and seize the attention of a professional Rockies player. Desmond congratulated him on the hit and gave him a high five.

"That was so fun," Mendez, with a huge smile across his face, said to his friend after their group finished hitting.

Mendez was one of 175 kids who participated in Saturday's Play Ball Clinic, hosted by the Rockies as part of MLB's Play Ball initiative to increase participation in youth baseball and softball across the country.

"It could be as simple as playing catch with your son or daughter to getting involved in competitive baseball and softball," said Dallas Davis, the Rockies' assistant director for community affairs. "We really went behind that initiative as it weaves in perfectly with what we support, promoting youth baseball and youth softball in the community."

All 175 youth were part of Boys & Girls Clubs around the Denver area. Nine metro Denver clubs were invited, along with two from Larimer County and two from Weld County. Split into groups, they rotated around stations led by Desmond, outfielder Noel Cuevas, pitcher Kyle Freeland and infielder Ryan McMahon.

"It's a great opportunity for them to see what hard work can result in and see the big league players first hand," said Zach Ducharme, the director of sports and recreation at the Boys & Girls Club of Weld County. "If they put that effort in, they can accomplish something big in their life."

Desmond led the hitting station, where each participant hit a Wiffle ball off of a tee and tried to put it over a fence for a home run. Cuevas taught groups how to run the bases, while McMahon fed players ground balls and pop flies. Davis ran an agility station, and the Denver Broncos Boys & Girls Club director Rich Barrows led groups through a character-building station.

What seemed to be the most popular, though, was Freeland's pitching station. Wide eyes followed Freeland's every move as he taught them the motions of pitching.

"We got to learn about pitching and more about baseball," Mendez said. "Kyle is my favorite because he's a real pitcher."

Teaching what he does was Freeland's favorite part about Saturday's event and why he wants do more of it.

"It's one thing I've been really getting into, especially this past year, giving back to the community that gave me so much," Freeland, a Denver native, said. "And they give our team so much coming out and supporting us every night. It's really special."

Faith Corral, who came from Weld County, liked Freeland the most out of all the players -- because "pitching is the best" -- but she enjoyed every station she went to.

"It was really cool, because I've never had an experience like that," Corral said.

The experience of playing baseball with Rockies players was the goal of Saturday for Rockies staff and the players who spent the two hours at Andres Galarraga Field.

"This is what being a big leaguer is all about in my opinion," Desmond said. "You don't know any of the kids' situations away from this camp, so saying good job to them or cheering them on, you don't know the last time they got that."

For McMahon, Saturday was a reminder that the game he plays should always be fun. The players McMahon taught on Saturday were quick to make him laugh and show him how excited they were to be playing baseball.

"This is the future generation of baseball, whether it's players, fans, things like that," McMahon said. "It's important to get them involved and doing these sorts of things."

Anne Rogers is a reporter for MLB.com based in Denver.

Colorado Rockies, Ian Desmond, Kyle Freeland