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Former players gather at Legends for Youth clinic

More than 50 kids take part in MLB Players Alumni Association event at Marlins Park

MIAMI -- When he was growing up, seven-year-old Lenny Harris used to sneak into Bobby Maduro Miami Stadium to watch big leaguers play ball.

On Saturday, more than 50 kids got on the field at Marlins Park -- but they didn't have to slip past security guards to get there. They were invited in as part of the Major League Baseball Players Alumni Association Legends for Youth clinic.

Harris, who was one of nine former big leaguers at Saturday's free clinic, met Rafael Palmeiro when they were pre-teens in Miami's inner city, and the two buddies would sneak into games together years before they became MLB standouts. Palmeiro went on to hit more than 500 homers and collect more than 3,000 hits, while Harris still holds the Major League record with 212 career pinch-hits.

"The Baltimore Orioles were my favorite team back then," said Harris, fondly remembering the days when the O's played spring training games at Miami Stadium, which was razed in 1999.

"Me and Rafi used to wait for batting practice so the players could hit home runs, and we could get the baseballs and use them to hit for ourselves. We used to ask for baseballs all the time. I remember [former Orioles catcher] Elrod Hendricks say, 'Didn't I give you a ball yesterday?' I had fun with it."

The kids at Saturday's clinic seemed to enjoy their exposure to baseball just as much, especially getting to run around a big league stadium.

Aside from Harris, the other former big league players at the clinic were pitchers Skip Lockwood and Brad Pennington; first baseman Orestes Destrade; outfielders Orlando Palmeiro, Richie Scheinblum and George Lombard; catcher Eli Marrero and utility player Steve Hertz. In addition, 15 players from the Miami Palmetto High School baseball team were there to help out and also learn.

Destrade, who is now a television color commentator for the Tampa Bay Rays, said he enjoys representing baseball, especially in Miami where he grew up. He said a lot of former big league players back then availed themselves to kids as personal instructors, and Destrade's parents "scraped up the money" for lessons.

That's another reason why Saturday's free clinic, on a perfectly manicured Major League field, was such a treat for the kids. Destrade said he just hopes the kids take advantage.

"Kids nowadays have more information," Destrade said. "Maybe they are a little less curious about some of the fine points of the game because they think they know it already.

"It's really pleasing when you get a kid who is hungry and is asking a lot of questions. Because of the information age, we, as humans, think we've got the answer. But until you lived it, you don't have the answer."

Destrade, who also played pro ball in Japan, said kids over there are sometimes more coachable.

"You tell them to line up," Destrade said, "and they line up in two seconds. Here, it's a little different. But still, the kids who come and are real about it, and they get into it, those are kids who want to be here. They are not being forced to come here."

Orlando Palmeiro said he was at Saturday's clinic because he feels a responsibility to the next generation.

"For me, most of my great memories are of my childhood," Palmeiro said. "I remember going to clinics when guys were teaching stuff and going, 'Wow!' I was in awe.

"I believe this is a great place to create memories."

Walter Villa is a contributor to
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