Royals legend Leonard helps host Play Ball event

Kansas City youth ballplayers get experience learning from team Hall of Famer

May 14th, 2016
Dennis Leonard and Les Norman sign autographs for kids at Play Ball event in Lenexa, Kansas.

LENEXA, Kan. -- A group of perhaps 20 youth ballplayers dressed in their Little League uniforms gathered around Kansas City Royals great Dennis Leonard to get baseball instruction from a Royals Hall of Famer whose name is all over the club's record book.

Leonard talked to them about playing catch, avoiding the use of breaking balls at a young age, proper grip and following through on their deliveries. He also reminded them of baseball's most important fundamental.

"When the umpire says 'Play ball,' he says 'Play' for a reason," Leonard told them. "It's important you don't forget to have fun."

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Leonard, along with another former Royals player Les Norman donated their time Friday afternoon to a clinic that Major League Baseball sponsored for about 80 kids as part of the league's Play Ball initiative. The inaugural Play Ball Weekend, happening across the league Saturday and Sunday, is being developed in order to encourage widespread participation in both formal and casual baseball and softball activities.

Leonard and Norman spoke to kids, the majority of whom dream of playing big league baseball.

"That's why it's important to develop this," Norman said, pointing at his head. "Baseball takes more than athletic ability. The coaches out there want a thinker, somebody who will use his or her brain. It's something you all need to develop."

Leonard, who turns 65 later this month, was a key part of the dominant Royals teams of the late 1970s and early 1980s. Leonard twice finished in the top seven in American League Cy Young Award voting and led the league in starts three times. He admits being fortunate to play with one of the dominant teams of his era, and that winning isn't all there is to having fun with baseball.

"These kids have the same aspirations I did as a kid," said Leonard, who grew up in New York, but settled in the Kansas City area after his career ended in 1986.

Norman, 47, spent parts of two seasons in the Majors after being named the organization's Minor League Player of the Year in 1993.

"I got a lot of guidance from baseball coaches," said Norman, a sports talk radio host in Kansas City, motivational speaker and author. He also recently published a book, "Teaching the Tools of Hitting."

The kids seemed open to Norman's wisdom in the few minutes they shared before rain shortened the event.

Mason Heitmann, 13, of De Soto, Kan., said he'll take to heart the overall message Norman and Leonard wanted to communicate. He also appreciated the batting tips.

"Playing with my friends and having a good time with baseball is the best part of the sport," Heitmann said. "Having fun and trying to get better as a player is what it's all about."