DALLAS -- Choo Freeman was raised just outside of Dallas in Mesquite, Texas. He knows what it’s like to grow up in the DFW area and the various benefits and challenges that come from it.
That’s why Freeman, a 1998 first-rounder, never hesitates to participate in clinics and camps around the Metroplex.
“I think it's good that the kids in the area see somebody who grew up here that made the big leagues and that they have the opportunity to do it also,” Freeman said. “They see similarities of myself that came up here and say ‘He's from Dallas, I can do it too.’”
Freeman, along with three other former big leaguers, came out to the Texas Rangers Youth Academy at Mercy Street Sports Complex on Saturday to promote the game of baseball and teach fundamentals to children of all ages as part of the Legends for Youth clinic series presented by the Major League Baseball Players Alumni Association.
The Legends for Youth Clinic Series runs more than 180 free events each year with the object of using former big leaguers to teach the fundamentals of the game and life skills. Shawn Barton, a former big leaguer who spent time with the Mariners (1992) and Giants (1995-96), said he feels an obligation to give back to the game by participating in events and clinics like this.
Freeman is now in his fifth year as the head baseball coach at his alma mater, Dallas Christian, where he won six Texas state championships across multiple sports. He also coaches junior high football and basketball.
He enjoys all the things that come along with youth coaching, especially building a foundation for young men as they grow through the years.
“What I enjoy is making a difference, making an impact and seeing the passion of the guys on the baseball field and seeing them grow as kids,” Freeman said. “My first group just graduated that I had from freshman year and seeing how much they've grown as a young man from freshman year to their senior year, you can't replace that feeling. I know that I made them a better baseball player, but also a better man and that's gonna help them down the road.”
Throughout the day, boys and girls aged 7-17 participated in a variety of drills, including baserunning, hitting and fielding.
While the entire clinic had to be moved to the Youth Academy’s indoor facility due to the below freezing wind chill, the players and instructors were still able to make the most out of the day’s instruction.
“I was excited because since I've been out of baseball I haven't had a whole lot of opportunities to get back,” said Travis Driskill, who played for three MLB teams from 2002-08. “Getting back to see the kids and just being part of the whole [MLBPAA], it's a big deal. Baseball is very foundational. Each skill builds on top of one of the other. If you can build that foundation with kids, hopefully, they'll never go backwards, and they can get better from that point on.”
Chris Gissell, a 1996 fourth-rounder who debuted with the Rockies, recently moved to DFW from Portland, Ore., and jumped at the opportunity to participate in the event. After playing professionally for 14 years across MLB, Nippon Professional Baseball, and the Chinese Professional Baseball League, Gissell started his own business focused on youth baseball development both on and off the field.
During the life skills portion of the clinic, Gissell took time to talk to a crowd of parents while the remaining three former big leaguers addressed the players.
“I talked to them about and cherishing the relationship they have with their kids, and not letting the game and their performance as young athletes get in the way of their relationship at home,” Gissell said. “I’ve seen it shatter relationships That should never happen. I was trying to put a little bug in their ear to be aware of their actions, how they speak, and just how they watch the game.”