Marlins welcome Fantasy Camp for Kids to loanDepot park

September 10th, 2022

MIAMI -- Hours before Saturday's game between the Marlins and Mets, Richard Bleier stood in left field discussing his daily routine with a young man named Michael Traband. In turn, the 15-year-old told Miami's left-handed reliever about his YouTube channel educating people on cerebral palsy.

Traband was one of 48 participants in the Miami Marlins Foundation’s Baseball Fantasy Camp for Kids at loanDepot park from Miami-Dade County Parks, Recreation and Open Spaces Therapeutic Recreation and Inclusion Program, Miami Learning Experience School, The Miracle League of Miami-Dade and Special Olympics Florida. The clinic provided ballplayers with physical and intellectual challenges -- ranging from 9 to 45 years old, but mainly school age -- the opportunity to improve their skills.

"It was very fun being on the field and actually playing where the Marlins play," said Traband, who comes to a couple games a season.

Before working on some fundamentals at three stations spread across the field, Bleier, Nick Fortes, Tanner Scott, Braxton Garrett and Jesús Luzardo handed out customized blue Marlins jerseys with the participants' names and numbers.

Fortes and Avisaíl García took turns giving tips to the kids at home plate for batting and baserunning, Traband's favorite of the drills. Some hit off a tee, while others tried soft toss. Traband and Bleier connected while fielding grounders in left field, where Scott and alumnus Charles Johnson also played catch and found a few of the participants showing off their arm strength. Garrett and Luzardo manned the Wiffle ball station in center, encouraging a few mini sluggers to take extra hacks.

Afterwards, everyone posed for group photos on the field, and then enjoyed a Pollo Tropical lunch because of the appetite they worked up.

"I think it's important," said Bleier, who has a daughter and another on the way. "You see how much the parents appreciate us being out here, and I think I would feel the same way if it were the other way around with my kid. I think it's nice to just give back to the community and interact with our fans. It's an hour of our time that goes a long way for a lot of people."

While this was the only youth fantasy camp of its kind at loanDepot park in 2022, the Marlins held another during Spring Training in Jupiter, Fla., where Minor Leaguers taught participants.

Bleier and Fortes (who remembers volunteering at similar camps during his time in the Minors) never had the opportunity to interact with professional athletes in this capacity growing up.

"I love doing stuff like this," Fortes said. "My uncle and my aunt [both had special needs], so I have kind of a soft spot for children and people [with special needs]. I know it means a lot to them. They get a lot of joy out of it, and it makes me smile, seeing them smile."