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Legends hold first youth clinic at Surprise Stadium

Alumni teach fundamental skills, share baseball experiences at Legends for Youth clinic

SURPRISE, Ariz. -- A few hours before the Rangers and Dodgers took the field at Surprise Stadium on Saturday, a group of 11 former big leaguers hosted roughly 130 kids on the same diamond for a youth baseball clinic put on by the Major League Baseball Players Alumni Association.

The event, which filled up in just 48 hours after online registration opened, is one of more than 100 free Legends for Youth clinics the MLBPAA sponsors throughout year across the country and world.

At every site it visits, the organization contacts local retired MLB players to act as coaches and mentors for the hundreds of children that show up eager to learn and play.

Although the MLBPAA is currently in its 18th year of organizing these events, Saturday marked the first time it held one in Surprise. Attendees, with ages ranging from 6 to 16, spent two hours transitioning through seven stations such as baserunning, throwing and hitting. Afterward, the MLB alumni signed autographs and spoke about their experiences in the big leagues.

Among the retirees in attendance were John D'Acquisto, Tom Heintzelman, Bob Didier and Ken Rudolph. The most decorated of the bunch, however, was Mike Remlinger. Selected 16th overall in the 1987 MLB First-Year Player Draft, Remlinger played 14 seasons in the big leagues for the Giants, Mets, Reds, Braves, Cubs and Red Sox. He was a National League All-Star in 2002 and was part of the 1999 National League champion Braves.

"It's an opportunity to give back, to share some of what made you successful in life," said Remlinger, who has been helping coach the clinics for five years. "It's caring about the people who come after you. I want to share life lessons with these kids, whether that's how to be a better ballplayer or a better person."

While most of what the players teach the kids are fundamental skills, the fact that the information is coming from someone who played in the Majors makes it even more valuable.

"To be able to give them a little bit of structured lessons is great," Remlinger said. "I know for me, as a kid, I would've thought it would be so cool to have the opportunity to get in front of a big leaguer. It's a great way to learn values like being part of a team and working toward your goals."

Nick Atkinson, of Surprise, has taken his two sons to seven of the clinics already and said they've developed a special bond to one of the players, former Mets outfielder Leon Brown.

"He's a mentor and someone they both look up to now," Atkinson said. "They have had such a great experience here; the players are so good to the kids. Their eyes and ears are always glued to them when they talk."

For many parents, the best part of the events is that they are free of cost, making it available to children of any background.

"I've paid for clinics and I've done this one, and this one is by far the best one," Atkinson said. "They have more enjoyment out of the coaches, it's just great. The kids notice how much they care."

As to the specific lessons learned on Saturday, for Xander Atkinson, 9, and Dustin Atkinson, 6, it was as simple as running through first base, catching the ball with two hands and keeping their eyes on the ball.