Local kids discover finer points of game at Play Ball clinic

May 21st, 2016

ROBBINSDALE, Minn. -- When Major League Baseball's All-Star Game came to Minnesota in 2014, several local baseball fields received funding for renovations. One such field was Lee Park in Robbinsdale.

Two years later, that same field played host to the Play Ball! Minnesota Youth Skills Clinic, hosted by the Twins as part of MLB's "Play Ball" initiative that began in 2015. Kids at Saturday's event spent the sun-soaked day learning from local coaches.

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Pat Collins has been a high school baseball coach for more than 30 years and currently coaches at Chisago Lakes High School. For the past five years or so, he's taught at similar skills clinics like the one he did on Saturday.

"Any time you get a chance to work with kids is a great experience. [They] are our future," Collins said. "We need to have as many kids playing baseball as we can. To see kids come out, learn a new skill and then have some success and see that big smile light up their world and their parents' world, that's a lot of fun."

Collins and his fellow coaches -- Tom Sauer and Jay Brown -- led two different age groups on Saturday at the newly renovated field in Robbinsdale. The first group of kids ranged in age from 6 to 9, while the second group had kids from 10 to 13 years old.

Sauer, a longtime physical education teacher, has participated in these types of clinics for more than 15 years and admired the hustle of the kids at Saturday's clinic.

"Especially when you get here, they want to be here," Sauer said. "Later on, when they get a little older, then you can get more to the technical stuff. When I do it, I just give them the really basic stuff to get a good swing -- so they only have to remember about three or four things."

During his lesson on hitting, Collins explained the importance of the batting stance and asked the young kids if they knew of the late Twins slugger Harmon Killebrew, the Hall of Famer who became a Minnesota mainstay long before the kids' time. More hands shot up when Collins followed up with the names of Joe Mauer and Justin Morneau, two players they were certainly familiar with.

As Collins taught the kids about the fundamentals of hitting, he encouraged them to take video of themselves as they practiced their swing. He also viewed Saturday's clinic as an opportunity for the parents on hand to learn how to help their kids improve their baseball skills, as well as their passion for the game.

"If you can, teach parents some of the things they need to know to be [more successful coaches]," Collins said. "As an example, kids don't necessarily want to listen to their parents -- whether it was in Plato's time or our time. If we can film them, let the kids do a little self-discovery, it's amazing what kids can learn on their own."