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EDI valuable experience for players, coaches

One-week programs provide elite training, instruction opportunities
Special to MLB.com

VERO BEACH, Fla. -- Nowhere else will a teenager go that provides an equal amount of knowledge and baseball instruction from a more qualified group of former Major League players and managers than the 2018 Elite Development Invitational at historic Dodgertown.

More than 120 players from all over the country with diverse backgrounds, ages 13-14, on Wednesday will wrap up Week 2 of the EDI, which is in its fourth season and operated by Major League Baseball and USA Baseball in partnership with the MLB Players Association.

VERO BEACH, Fla. -- Nowhere else will a teenager go that provides an equal amount of knowledge and baseball instruction from a more qualified group of former Major League players and managers than the 2018 Elite Development Invitational at historic Dodgertown.

More than 120 players from all over the country with diverse backgrounds, ages 13-14, on Wednesday will wrap up Week 2 of the EDI, which is in its fourth season and operated by Major League Baseball and USA Baseball in partnership with the MLB Players Association.

Each one-week program was geared toward providing elite training and instruction opportunities from former players and coaches, like Marquis Grissom, Tom "Flash" Gordon and Charles Johnson, along with LaTroy Hawkins, Lenny Webster, Lou Collier, Junior Spivey and Marvin Freeman.

You might not find a better or more qualified group of instructors in the game today.

Week 1 of EDI Baseball featured players ages 15-18. Players from both age groups were selected for each week by a combination of many groups, including the MLB Youth Academy network, Reviving Baseball in Inner Cities (RBI) program, Major League Baseball, the Major League Baseball Players Association, USA Baseball, the Buck O'Neil Scouts Association, MLB Scouts and individual active and former players. Many players were also participants of previous Breakthrough Series Development camps hosted by MLB & USA Baseball. The event is made possible through joint funding by MLB, the MLBPA and USA Baseball.

Not only are the players gaining valuable experience, but also for some coaches, this could and perhaps should become a steppingstone to a future stint in the Major Leagues. The event featured former big league managers Jerry Manuel and Willie Randolph.

But there are others who aspire to coach or manage at the Major League level. And then there are some who don't.

"Oh, no. I've been down that road," Grissom said. The two-time All-Star, four-time Gold Glove Award winner, two-time stolen base leader and World Series champion spent the 2009 season with the Nationals as their first-base coach.

"It was a great experience for me being in the game for 17 years, and coming back [as a coach], the road trips, the travel, was a little bit too tough for me," Grissom said.

Video: Final week of 2018 Elite Development Invitational

"I'm really glad I got an opportunity to have that experience. But now, being home with my kids and being able to go into the community and give what I've learned over my 17-year career, and give it back to those kids, that's the eye-opener for me. That's the success that I want out of this."

Events like EDI and his own Marquis Grissom Baseball Association in Atlanta, are gratifying enough.

"This is a once in a lifetime event for me," Grissom said of the EDI. "I don't know when I'll ever get the experience again to have 25 former Major Leaguers get together and share information. I don't know where I would get that. The kids don't quite understand it right now, they will as they get older. This is baseball heaven for me."

But on the other side of the spectrum, Gordon, a 21-year veteran (three-time All-Star, AL saves leader, AL Relief Man Award, and World Series champion), said he would jump at the chance to coach in the Major Leagues. In fact, he expects to.

"Eventually, the phone is going to ring," Gordon said. "I know down the line someone is going to say, 'This guy has what it takes, he's ready to go.'"

At the same time Gordon, the father of Mariners second baseman Dee Gordon and Nick Gordon, the fifth overall pick in the 2014 MLB Draft by the Twins, said he is enthused about the future of the EDI event.

Video: Elite Development Invitational visits Dodgertown

"I have really jelled with what's going on here because I have travel programs myself that I enjoy every week being a part of." Tom Gordon said. "Of course, I'd love to be, at some point a Major League pitching coach. I've been around a long time.

"I don't feel like I know more than some of the gurus of understanding what pitching is all about. But I do feel like what I've understood and learned from watching, with the mechanics part of it, being able to break down mechanics, being able to understand what could give a guy the best chance to enhance his velocity, and also give him the best chance to separate himself as a pitcher with his offspeed. I just believe I'm one of the best out there."

Whether it was learning from pitching coaches like Mel Stottlemyre or hanging around the bullpen with Mariano Rivera, Gordon said he feels like he's learned from the best and he is ready to take the next step.

Video: EDI players discuss program in Vero Beach, Florida

Johnson is another in the group of qualified coaches to make the jump.

"That's something I have looked at," Johnson said. "When I finished [my baseball career], I went home and raised my kids. I really wanted to spend time with my boys, be their dad. After traveling for so many years playing the game, you just really want to go home and spend time with the kids."

His oldest son, Brandon Johnson, is now a starting wide receiver at the University of Tennessee and the Vols' leading receiver in 2017. The younger son, Beau Johnson, is a senior in high school excelling in both baseball and football.

Now that his kids are grown up, Johnson said he is keeping his eyes and ears open to the possibility of a coaching job in the Majors.

"Now I'm starting to look to see if anything like that pops up," he said. "That's why being here is so important because it gets me back out into the game again. You never know, if things come up and it's the right situation, I'm definitely going to look at it."

Growing up in nearby Ft. Pierce, the former two-time All-Star, four-time Gold Glove Award winner and World Series champion has been around baseball as long as he can remember. He recalls talking to Andre Dawson, a teammate of his dad's at Florida A&M.

"I grew up really coming to Dodgertown watching guys like Dusty Baker and Mike Scioscia, and hanging out and enjoying my time living up here," Johnson said. "Just being around a lot of guys playing the game of baseball and learning it the right way; so what I get out of (coaching the EDI event) is teaching these kids the right way of doing things.

"The game is difficult itself. If you don't learn it the right way, it's really hard."

Glenn Sattell is a contributor to MLB.com.