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MLBPAA conducts youth clinic at Nationals Park

Fourteen former big leaguers converge in Washington to teach baseball to kids

WASHINGTON -- Close to 75 ambitious young baseball players collected at Nationals Park on Thursday morning for the Legends for Youth Baseball Clinic, presented by the MLBPAA.

Fourteen former Major Leaguers combined to run seven stations in the outfield, bullpen and batting cages at the stadium. The Major Leaguers included 1973 American League Rookie of the Year Al Bumbry, two-time World Series champion Jim Coates, Bill Bray, Steven Bumbry, Chuck Goggin, Jim Hannan, Arturo Lopes, Dickie Noles, Greg Smith, Fred Valentine, Rod Booker, Daryl Smith, Rick Krivda and Tony Vlahovic.

The stations included hitting, fielding ground balls and fly balls, baserunning, pitching, throwing and catching.

"I think it's real important for former players to come and be able to give back, and I think to demonstrate to the current players and show that this is part of what you do as a ballplayer, even after you're done playing," said Vlahovic, who coached the New Jersey baseball team to a gold medal at this year's Special Olympics in Trenton, N.J. "It means a lot."

Valentine, who played seven seasons in the Major Leagues for the Orioles and the Washington Senators, is an active member of the MLBPAA. He helps out with clinics and camps across the country, but said attending Thursday's local event was particularly special.

"It means a lot to be able to come and work with the young kids to give them basic fundamentals about baseball," Valentine said. "So many kids today. … They'll come out and they're just having fun, but they're not learning the real intricacies, the real facts of methods of how to play the game. So that's my biggest thrill, coming in and trying to put some time into it, give them some instruction."

Bray was the most junior member out of the Major Leaguers present at Nationals Park, considering he retired from professional baseball in February. The Expos drafted the left-hander in the first round of the 2004 First-Year Player Draft. He went to play 19 games for the Nationals in 2006 before spending six seasons with the Reds.

Bray said it was an honor to come back on the field Thursday to give back to the community.

"I can remember going and watching games, and my heroes and them talking to us and signing autographs and making appearances at local camps," Bray said. "It means everything. You remember the guys that you meet when you were little, and it's inspiring."

Vlahovic ran drills Thursday to teach kids about proper technique regarding the physical aspects of baseball. But the former Major Leaguer noted the mental parts of the game are more important for young players to grasp.

"You have to stay steady-state, because you're going to fail," Vlahovic said. "And how you handle that failure is the key to how successful you are in this game."

Bray agreed.

"You're going to run into things in life, roadblocks in life, and you're going to have to find your way around them," he said. "You're going to have to be curious about what's on the other side."