Players value Double Duty Classic experience
CHICAGO -- Not only did Najee Gaskins get the chance to do something most players never do -- play on U.S. Cellular Field with other elite players from across the country in the Double Duty Classic -- but he also led the East team to a 7-2 victory on Wednesday.
Still, his favorite part of the event wasn't the game or even the advice he received in the forum to begin the day. It was the chance to teach groups of younger athletes how to play the game of baseball, having grown up playing it for much of his life.
"We got to give them gloves and everything," Gaskins said, a smile beaming across his face. "It was just really nice."
Gaskins and 35 other players took part in the Double Duty Classic on Wednesday, an All-Star game for elite inner-city high school baseball players hosted by the White Sox. Players had the chance to work with kids and listen to a panel of speakers in the morning before capping it with a game in front of scouts and fans.
Gaskins, a right fielder, made the most of his trip from Vail, Ariz., reaching base five times in six at-bats, adding three hits, two RBIs, four steals and scoring two runs. He was quick to deflect praise, and instead heaped it on the players in a program that has seen more than 90 athletes gain scholarships to college.
"I'm surprised nobody else won MVP, because they're the real deal," Gaskins said. "I don't know [what I did well], but I think the experience helped me want to do more."
And Gaskins didn't let a long, unpleasant trip dampen his time. He didn't land until midnight local time, only to find out the airline lost his bags, but he said the experience was "definitely worth it."
Earlier in the day, players heard from White Sox executive vice president Ken Williams, ESPN commentator Michael Wilbon, and president of the Negro League Baseball Museum Bob Kendrick, among others, about the history of the game while providing advice on how to be a better player.
The event is named after Ted "Double Duty" Radcliffe, who played for the Chicago American Giants of the Negro Leagues, and is designed to teach players about history while developing them toward the future. Players wore authentic replica uniforms from those East-West All-Star Games of the past, and used wooden bats.
West pitcher Tyler Laux said the event was something he'll never forget, despite not having his strongest performance. He pitched two innings, but said he wants to work even harder after his first year in the event.
"It was real special and an honor," he said. "And it meant a lot to pitch at such a special event like this."
Laux and Gaskins didn't have trouble bonding with everyone else and clicking on the field. Both teams made a handful of plays on the infield worthy of a highlight reel, including Gaskins' East teammate, Alex Thomas. The center fielder sprinted to make a catch to rob an extra-base hit.
Many players are from the Chicago Amateur City Elite program, created by the White Sox, and have played together for years. And that support trickled down to younger players, like Thomas, who is one of just three players to graduate in 2018.
"All these older players help me strive to do better, and that's what it's all about," Thomas said.