Former players give Major League instruction to kids at Gary Clinic

July 23rd, 2019

We’ve all heard of the popular sports term “putting on a clinic.” Well, Monday afternoon in Gary, Indiana, that’s exactly what many beloved former major league players came together to do.

As part of the MLBPAA’s Legends for Youth baseball clinics program, kids from ages 8-13 flocked to the U.S. Steel Yard, home of the Southshore Railcats, for a chance to learn the fundamentals of the game from some of the greats.

Sponsor of the program LaTroy Hawkins, who pitched in the majors for 21-seasons, is a native of Gary, Indiana. Giving back to the community of Gary is something Hawkins truly enjoys.

“It's huge just because I was a kid growing up in this city at one time like they are,” Hawkins said. “I had some big leaguers that lived in the area like Lloyd McClendon, Wallace Johnson, Ron Kittle who did stuff in our neighborhood that inspired me to want to play the game. Hopefully, having a camp like this in my hometown inspires the next generation to want to play the game like the generation before me inspired me.”

The familiarity of the U.S. Steel Yard isn’t just something that Hawkins holds close to his heart, though. Former major league pitcher Tim Brydak played for the Independent League Southshore Railcats in 2003, while attempting to rejuvenate his career and get back into the majors.

“This is kind of a little bit of a homecoming for me,” Byrdak said. “At the end of that '03 season, I didn't get a lot of attention, I was still coming back off my Tommy John surgery and I remember coming off this very field and thinking in the back of my mind that this could be the last time I ever play professionally. And then things just happened, the right people, the right place, the right time and I was able to backload my career and be able to get back to the big leagues. But it almost ended right here, so anytime I get to come back here it's a special thing.”

Another common theme throughout the afternoon was teaching the importance of respect. Respect for everyone you encounter through all walks you take in life.

“I think the most important nugget I would give the kids is to respect others, especially their teachers and their parents,” Hawkins said. “Baseball is just a small part of life, it helps with life because it gave myself, Byrdak and all the other big leaguers here an opportunity to get to know people who didn't grow up where we did, get to know people who are in a totally different country and that was the biggest thing for me, being able to reach out and touch some of everybody across the globe through baseball.”

As far as the game is concerned, the message was clear -- have fun. In an era where many believed that the game hindered the buoyancy of the personalities within it, Wood, Byrdak and Hawkins want kids to remember is that having fun is one of the most important things to do.

“Having fun, being outside and just having fun playing with each other, respecting one another,” Wood said of what he wants kids to take away from the program.

“Understanding how to work together, how to work as a team and with teammates. Those are life skills you learn not just with any team sport but as you get older and into college, dealing with teachers, professors and classmates as well as entering the workforce, dealing with different bosses and different people that you work with. It's just learning how to respect one another and understanding that we all are trying to get to the same goal but we may have different routes to get there.”

Brydak is the perfect example of taking a different route to get where you’re going. What Brydak wants kids to understand is that it isn’t always about hitting the highest target, it’s about the skills it takes to get there.

“Being able to come out, a lot of us being ambassadors to the game, teaching younger kids and younger generations maybe not to be an All-Star, but just give them the tools to understand the game a little bit better, to enjoy the game and want to become fans.” Brydak said.

There will certainly be more Legends for Youth clinics in the future, as it isn’t simply rewarding for the wide-eyed kids who attend these programs.

“I haven't seen LaTroy in many years,” Wood said of the two former Cubs’ reunion. “He reached out and it was a no-brainer. I love to come out and help and give back what I can."