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Grissom, Johnson give back at Breakthrough

Special to MLB.com

BRADENTON, Fla. -- Marquis Grissom and Charles Johnson share an awful lot.

Both have World Series rings, two All-Star appearances and multiple Gold Glove Awards, but this week, the two former MLB players have been sharing even more with the many young players at the Breakthrough Series.

BRADENTON, Fla. -- Marquis Grissom and Charles Johnson share an awful lot.

Both have World Series rings, two All-Star appearances and multiple Gold Glove Awards, but this week, the two former MLB players have been sharing even more with the many young players at the Breakthrough Series.

"We are just trying to give back," Grissom said. "I think what MLB is doing and USA Baseball is giving these kids a great opportunity to get more insight of the game, get their baseball IQ up and really try to develop these kids."

• Complete Breakthrough Series coverage

While it's Grissom's fifth year participating in the Breakthrough Series program, it's Johnson's first, although he's spent the past three years working with players in the Elite Developmental Invitational (EDI) programs around the country.

"It's great, because everywhere you go, you see different kids. It's always helpful to see different kids," Johnson said. "Sometimes you see some of the same kids, because they are talented kids and they really stay in the system. That means a lot for the program [that] they're coming back and they're getting something out of it."

Johnson and Grissom are among 16 Major Leaguers working with this year's Breakthrough Series players, but they represent the two states with the most players: Florida and Georgia, where 38 of the 60 players this week hail from.

Grissom is familiar with many of them, as for the past 12 years, he has run the Marquis Grissom Baseball Association, in Atlanta. Grissom's Academy works on honing baseball skills, but like the Breakthrough Series, it's more than that -- Grissom takes pride in helping these kids, many of whom can't afford to pay for travel ball, showcase their skills. He also aids them in the classroom, where he has invested in helping players improve their grades and test scores. As a result, many have earned college baseball scholarships.

"Really not trying to create a Major League Baseball player, but create a guy that can go out and be a productive citizen and have character about themselves, and continue to help the world grow as a whole," Grissom said. "Just to see these guys go to college and graduate, that's what I believe in."

Johnson has the same mission. He launched the Charles Johnson Foundation two years ago in Ft. Lauderdale, Fla., which features a baseball academy headed up by former catcher aptly named "Catch This."

"I go into inner cities and really train young kids and introduce them to the game of baseball. I work with a lot of coaches in the inner city [too]," Johnson sayd.

Johnson used to have kids come work with him, but he learned quickly it's better to teach them in their environment.

"What I found is that it works best for me to go to the young kids in their locations, in their parks, without having them come see me," Johnson said. "I was having issues with kids coming to see me, so I said, 'You know what? I'm gonna drive my car and I'm gonna see these kids and teach them baseball skills,' and that's working very well for me."

This week, Johnson and Grissom don't need a car, as kids are coming to them via the Breakthrough Series -- kids who appreciate learning from those who have been there.

"They helped me a lot in different ways, hitting, pitching everything," McDonough Georgia pitcher Joseph Eichelberger said.

While many learned on-the-field skills, others took in other aspects.

"Stay in the game mentally; sometimes, I'm not into it mentally as I should be," Ole Miss signee and shortstop T.J. McCants said. "They help me out with my [baseball] IQ."

The players are smarter because of the experience. The former players get just as much out of it.

"It means a lot, because I love the game of baseball," Johnson said. "I've had coaches and I've had different players along the way, like Andre Dawson, really give me some nice words of encouragement and instruction when I was a young boy, so I'm saying to myself, 'Why not give back to these young kids?'"

How would a 16-year-old Marquis Grissom have benefited from this experience?

"Oh my goodness. To have former Major League players and these great coaches ... on a daily basis, to get this kind of instruction, is unbelievable," Grissom said. "It's a treat for us as former players and instructors to give it back. We have a lot of knowledge, a lot of information, a lot of experiences that we want to share with these kids, and they're sucking it up. It's great for them and great for us."

Mike Nabors is a contributor to MLB.com.