Luzardo, Welker give back to hometown youth with baseball clinic

January 20th, 2024

MIAMI -- It’s a special moment, being able to give back to the community that raised you. It’s arguably even more special once you’ve succeeded at the highest level of your industry. For and , Saturday was just that. For the fourth year in a row, the pair hosted the Luzardo & Welker Baseball Clinic at their alma mater, Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla.

Eight years ago, Luzardo and Welker were both set to graduate high school and attend the University of Miami to play baseball. Instead, they were each drafted -- Luzardo by the Nationals and Welker by the Rockies -- and opted to forego college to start their professional careers. That was only made possible by the hard work each put in on the very field where over 100 kids gathered on Saturday to receive instruction from Major and Minor Leaguers.

Luzardo (now with the Marlins) and Welker (a free agent after time in the Rockies and Giants’ organizations) were joined by the MSD baseball team, players from the Lynn University softball team and former and current big league teammates, including Jake Eder (White Sox), Sean Guenther (Tigers), Yohandy Morales (Nationals), Coby Mayo (Orioles), Xavier Edwards (Marlins), Anthony Bender (Marlins) and Lewis Brinson (Yomiuri Giants), among others. Also in attendance was State Representative Christine Hunschofsky, who was the Mayor of Parkland from 2017-20.

“Being able to give back and be that person in the community, I feel super blessed just to be in that spot,” Luzardo said. “But I love seeing these kids and how much they enjoy the game. … And we love to see it grow. I mean, every year I feel like it’s getting better and better and more organized. So hopefully we keep expanding and get better every year.”

For Luzardo and Welker, it’s not just the community and the school they want to give back to, but also the coach who helped them develop into successful adults and athletes: Stoneman Douglas baseball head coach Todd Fitz-Gerald.

“We were kids then, but as men now, looking back, how special [Stoneman Douglas and Coach Fitz-Gerald] really were, and we never really took it for granted, thankfully,” Welker said. “Just grateful for him -- I still hit with him all the time.

“I never really went to anything as hands-on [as this] or where you’re talking to guys face-to-face at every station. The professional turnout we have every year is super neat for the kids -- different faces, guys these kids see on TV. So if we can motivate them to love the game or play the game and inspire them in every way, it’s special.”

Inspiring the next generation of baseball fans -- and baseball talent -- is absolutely at the forefront of these players’ minds. It’s why they’ve partnered with a plethora of brands to put on the best camp possible, where kids ages 5-12 can work on infield and outfield drills, baserunning, hitting and much more. It provides opportunities not available elsewhere -- it’s not often kids get to interrupt a Major Leaguer’s interview or get a Major Leaguer to help them tie their cleats.

This offseason has looked a little different for Welker than Luzardo. The third baseman was released from the Giants’ Triple-A team in July and has since been working to get back into the game he loves.

“I went to Puerto Rico [to play winter ball] for a little bit, so I’m trying to sign,” Welker said. “I can still hit, so we’ll see what happens. I hope someone takes a chance. … I feel like my old self, so I’m hoping to go out there and show somebody."

Meanwhile, Luzardo is gearing up for his fifth full Major League season and fourth with the Marlins. Last year, Luzardo cemented himself as a reliable starter, making 32 starts in his first full healthy season in Miami. His 3.58 ERA helped propel the Marlins to a postseason berth, stabilizing a rotation that lost 2022 National League Cy Young Award winner Sandy Alcantara down the stretch to Tommy John surgery.

“[Last season] gave me a lot of confidence,” Luzardo said. “And obviously we want to do that for the team as starting pitchers; whenever we need to step up, we have to step up. But for me, it gave me a lot of confidence. Obviously it’s something I want to build off of going into 2024, and I think we’re ready for a good year.

“Last year was a great year for us, and I think that’s the group feeling -- that we’re all very excited to be ready to go.”