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Breakthrough Series leaves lasting mark on players

MLB.com

KANSAS CITY -- As the Breakthrough Series closed its fourth and final day in Kansas City on Tuesday, the band of newcomers to the event left with a bank of experiences unlike anything they'd had before.

Three-fourths of the 60 participants in the event's first trip to the Kansas City Urban Youth Academy experienced their first Breakthrough Series, a program sponsored by Major League Baseball and USA Baseball that offers instruction and exposure to players from underserved communities.

KANSAS CITY -- As the Breakthrough Series closed its fourth and final day in Kansas City on Tuesday, the band of newcomers to the event left with a bank of experiences unlike anything they'd had before.

Three-fourths of the 60 participants in the event's first trip to the Kansas City Urban Youth Academy experienced their first Breakthrough Series, a program sponsored by Major League Baseball and USA Baseball that offers instruction and exposure to players from underserved communities.

Bringing together such a pool of talent certainly yields on-the-field benefits, but the players are also simply enjoying being around a collection of guys just like them.

Complete Breakthrough Series coverage

"It's just been a great experience," said Daniel Corona, a shortstop and pitcher from Brooklyn, N.Y. "I've got to meet some of the best players from around the country."

The team of instructors features 17 former Major League players and coaches with more than 150 years of pro experience and 10 All-Star selections between them. Being able to connect with and learn from a group so connected to the bigs is something the players appreciated tremendously.

"I'm getting to learn from the best that played," said Emanuel Dean, an outfielder from Anaheim, Calif. "They have a lot of MLB experience, which I'm trying to get to. They're teaching us stuff to get to that next level and be the best player we can be."

Through both positional instruction and live-action scrimmages, the players were molded by the staff around them to round out their games and polish their talent. With professional and college scouts watching, the lessons were especially pertinent.

Being able to hear from guys who had reached the peak of their craft allowed the players to receive unique and practical insights that they may not have been able to get from coaches elsewhere.

"The best piece of advice I've got was actually today, when we were doing outfield early work," Dean said. "The coach told me that you can actually pick up signs from the catcher, that you can go to a certain point on the field and cheat, kind of, to maybe see where the hitter's going to hit the ball."

The teachings were not limited to just the execution of the game, though. While the instructors likely wouldn't have made it as far as they did without their natural talent, they emphasized the mental execution behind their success too.

"That's tough," said Christian Little, a pitcher from St. Louis, Mo., when asked what the best advice he received from a coach was. "I've gotten a lot of advice. Probably to stay within myself [was the best]. To do what I'm capable of, don't try to do more."

In a game with as heavy of a mental side as baseball, this mindset is especially important, particularly as the window to develop before college or the pros gets smaller and smaller. That's why the coaches made sure to remind the players that, while they may fail, they need to stay focused and confident in their talent -- they wouldn't be here without it.

"Always keep a cool mindset," said Christian Moore, a shortstop from Brooklyn, N.Y. "Don't beat yourself up. At the beginning of the Series, I had a few at-bats where I wouldn't put the ball in play or strike out, and I would kind of be upset. They told me, 'Know you're young, know you're playing with older guys. Stay cool, you have three years left. Just keep balling.'"

Jordan Wolf is a reporter for MLB.com based in Kansas City.