School had been out for weeks, but Dickie Noles was giving a history lesson.
“Do you know who Deion Sanders is?” Noles asked a group of 12-year-olds in Bryce Harper and Rhys Hoskins t-shirts. “He played in the World Series and the Super Bowl. He still does commercials. No? What about Andre Dawson?”
The kids stared back. One adjusted his hat.
“We have a whole generation of kids who don’t know their history,” Noles said.
Noles did his best to change that. The 11-year MLB veteran, who won a World Series with the Phillies in 1980, was one of eight former players taking part in the MLB Players Alumni Association’s Legends for Youth Clinic on Wednesday morning at FDR Park in South Philadelphia. The players instructed 75 6- to 16-year-olds in rotating stations to learn baseball skills, life lessons and, yes, a little bit of history.
When asked about their favorite station, the campers nearly unanimously said “hitting,” where Noles ran the show, urging the young players to keep their shoulders square, use their legs and keep their eyes on the ball.
Noles, who went 36-54 with a 4.56 ERA across 11 seasons as a starter and a reliever, said he ran the hitting station because no one else wanted to.
“Pitchers know a little bit about hitting,” Noles said. “I’ve been in this game for 47 years. I’ve faced Barry Bonds and Bobby Bonds. Ken Griffey Sr. and Ken Griffey Jr.”
The Legends for Youth Clinic series is a charitable program that runs more than 180 free programs around the world each year. The mission is to promote baseball to youth by exposing them to positive sports images and personalities. Personalities like Noles, who kept the kids entertained with jokes and stories.
“I played on the 1980 Phillies and rode the float in 2008,” Noles said. “I’d like to ride one more. Maybe this year.”
A camper asked who his favorite member of the 1980 Phillies was.
“All of them,” Noles said. “Pete Rose. Mike Schmidt. Steve Carlton. Lonnie Smith. You guys don’t know those guys, do you?”
Baseball history, recent and not-so-recent, was present at every part of the field.
Local product and former No. 1 overall pick Ben Davis taught catching, urging players to follow the ball with their noses. Brandon Duckworth and Bob Kaiser, who threw a combined 1,000 big leagues innings, taught the art of pitching. Glen Barker, who at one point was an Astros “Killer B” with Jeff Bagwell and Craig Biggio, ran outfield drills. Steve Garrison, who saw time with the Yankees, taught baserunning. Former Oriole Mike Moriarty instructed the infielders.
Long-time MLB pitcher and 2000 Olympic gold medalist Rick Krivda gave what almost amounted to a history lesson. When he asked how many campers had laid down a bunt, few hands went up.
“It’s a lost art in this day and age,” Krivda said. “It’s an unselfish thing. It’s not going to make you rich.”
After the drills, the campers received life lessons and then lined up for autographs.
“It takes dedication, preparation and determination,” Davis said. “Everything we do has a purpose. We’re not doing it because our parents want us to.”
“Baseball is a game of failure,” Garrison added. “Take what you learn from this game and use it. It will make you a better person in all aspects of your life.”
Noles advised any camper who wanted to make the big leagues to start visualizing the journey. He told them to watch their favorite players. Know their histories.
“Read Derek Jeter’s book,” Noles said. “When he was a little kid, he walked into his living room and told his mom he was going to be a Major League Baseball player. Then he said, ‘and I’m going to be shortstop for the New York Yankees.’”
The campers nodded eagerly. Jeter was a name they recognized. One asked if Noles had played with Jeter. He had not. He turned his attention to the cage.
“Nice swing,” Noles told the hitter as he ripped a line drive up the middle. “Looks a little like Jeter.”
Noles even taught a bit of ancient biblical history.
“We got Elijah and Jacob,” Noles said after asking the campers his name. “Now all we need is Mark, Paul, John and Luke. Any of you guys know who those are? They’re not singers.”
The campers asked questions, gave each other tips, and lingered to shake the veterans’ hands. Duckworth shouted out those that took the time to introduce themselves before each session. Garrison noted how much fun he was having. It was a familiar refrain.
“It’s a game,” Davis said. “It’s supposed to be fun.”
“What’s the first rule of baseball?’” Noles asked.
“Have fun,” the campers responded.
Everyone agreed, even if one legend from history might have had a different answer.
“According to Pete Rose, the first rule of baseball is ‘see the ball, hit the ball,’” Noles said.