Winfield shares wisdom at Aaron Invitational

July 19th, 2021

On July 12, the baseball world was wowed by 's dazzling Home Run Derby triumph. Thriving on the Mile High City’s altitude, he launched 74 home runs -- 20 of which went farther than 475 feet -- defending his title with the flair that young ballplayers dream of.

Days later, Hall of Famer Dave Winfield faced 100 youth baseball players, many of whom had been struck by Alonso’s dominance. While Winfield, too, was suitably impressed, the 12-time All-Star and World Series champion had one piece of advice for the players in front of him.

“I told them, ‘Do not swing like that. You are young kids,’” Winfield said during an interview on MLB Network. “‘The first thing you need to do is learn how to hit.’”

The young players will do just that and more at week one of the Hank Aaron Invitational, an elite development event presented by the MLB-MLBPA Youth Development Foundation. Taking place over two weeks at the Jackie Robinson Training Complex in Vero Beach, Fla., the camp aims to identify and elevate high school-age talents from diverse backgrounds.

The Hank Aaron Invitational features prestigious on-field training sessions with former Major and Minor League players, coaches, managers and executives, as well as special guest presentations on advancing to the collegiate and professional levels of baseball. Winfield joined MLB Central on Monday to discuss his address to the participants.

Winfield said he saw “unlimited potential” in the players chosen for the invitational, but he emphasized the importance of working hard to convert their natural talent into on-field results.

“You can start with God-given ability,” Winfield said, “but you have to have the fundamentals, then you have to have purposeful practice, physical fitness and mental toughness. And if you can accomplish all of those, you can reach your potential.”

To Winfield, fundamentals -- using the whole field, getting the bat on the ball just right -- are everything in hitting. Everyone may want to be Alonso, he said, but they won’t get there without working on every aspect of their game.

“There’s five things you can do as a baseball player: Hit for power, hit for average, run, field, throw,” Winfield said. “You may never be the best at any one of them, but if you work on all of them, some coach is going to want you.

“You never know what you can be until you work on it.”

This year’s invitational takes on a special meaning, as its namesake, baseball legend Hank Aaron, passed away in January. Winfield, who entered the big leagues three years before Aaron retired, said playing on the same field as him was an honor and that Aaron became one of his closest friends in subsequent years.

The mission of the Hank Aaron Invitational, Winfield said, honors the all-time great’s memory.

“Things like this camp here, he wanted all kids to continue playing baseball, but certainly kids of color, too, because that had fallen off in recent years,” Winfield said. “But he was just a great friend, and I’m still hurt that he’s not with us anymore.

“He was a beautiful human being, and a great player, and so it’s in his honor that we do this camp.”