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JUCO clinic teaches kids near 'majestic' scenery

Players, coaches instruct youth ahead of Junior College World Series
Special to MLB.com

GRAND JUNCTION, Colo. -- Del Matthews didn't hesitate Thursday to express how unique the site of the Alpine Bank Junior College World Series is for Major League Baseball's Play Ball initiative. To him, that's what makes Suplizio Field a great fit every year.

"It's quite majestic with the mountains in the background," said Matthews, MLB's senior director of baseball and softball development. "That gives it its own unique flavor. But playing in a Minor League Baseball stadium that has its own personality is great, because every stadium is unique, and ... the great thing about these [clinics] is you can take them anywhere in the nation."

GRAND JUNCTION, Colo. -- Del Matthews didn't hesitate Thursday to express how unique the site of the Alpine Bank Junior College World Series is for Major League Baseball's Play Ball initiative. To him, that's what makes Suplizio Field a great fit every year.

"It's quite majestic with the mountains in the background," said Matthews, MLB's senior director of baseball and softball development. "That gives it its own unique flavor. But playing in a Minor League Baseball stadium that has its own personality is great, because every stadium is unique, and ... the great thing about these [clinics] is you can take them anywhere in the nation."

The JUCO World Series was the latest stop in a collective effort by baseball to get kids involved in baseball- and softball-related activities. It's an itinerary that this spring included New York, Tennessee, Puerto Rico and Mexico.

The draw for this clinic, which is in its third year of partnership with MLB, was the free instruction given by members of each of the 10 JUCO teams that will be playing for a national championship starting Saturday. Many of those will play for the first time in front of thousands of people, so the light-hearted interaction between the players and the 300-plus participants ages 3 to 12 helped loosen them up before the first pitch is thrown.

"It's been super fun to see all of the kids laugh and run around here," said Iowa Western freshman infielder Ross Indlecoffer, who joined his teammates in instructring a rundown clinic in right field. "But I think me and my teammates might be having a little bit more fun, just because it's nice to be with the kids here in this beautiful stadium."

JUCO players ran each of the 10 instructional stations, which included pitching, catching and playing infield, outfield and first base. This year's clinic also included a coaching clinic ran by Iowa Western coach Marc Rardin, who gave coaching tips to aspiring youth and Little League baseball coaches near the right-field foul pole.

Matthews noted the clinic has been all over the country, including Texas, South Dakota and Florida earlier this year. He said a June stop in Fairbanks, Alaska, is planned for the summer in association with the annual Midnight Sun Game, which the Alaska Goldpanners of Fairbanks summer college baseball team plays annually with a start time close to 10:30 p.m., but under no artificial light.

JUCO's pre-tournament clinic, which has been going for more than a decade, is growing in popularity. JUCO committee member Mike Honeycutt said the 164 participants who pre-registered online this year were an all-time high.

That accompanied the walk-up participants, who also helped create a lot of smiles for this year's JUCO players.

"This is why I always want to come out here with the players, because I want to see this. This is just another part of the experience," Walters State Community College (Tenn.) coach David Shelton said. "Not only is it good for the kids going through the camp, but it's just as valuable for our players. You can almost kind of see how some of these kids have someone to look up to now."

Jon Mitchell is a contributor to MLB.com.