Rays treat lucky kids to clubhouse tour

Event, a National PLAY Campaign stop, part of MLB's Play Ball Weekend

May 14th, 2016

ST. PETERSBURG -- The Rays took a different approach in the annual National PLAY Campaign stop at Tropicana Field this year. Usually the event centers around a ballgame played on an MLB diamond. This year became an in-depth tour behind the scenes of a Major League team.

A group spent two hours touring Tampa Bay's clubhouse, training rooms and batting cages Saturday in St. Petersburg, complete with a chance to meet Logan Forsythe.

Complete Youth Baseball coverage

"We decided to make it special for these guys," assistant athletic trainer Paul Harker said. "It worked out good. I was happy we were able to do that."

Harker, fellow assistant athletic trainer Mark Vinson and head athletic trainer Ron Porterfield split tour-guide duties during the two-hour visit, which started in Tampa Bay's film room before taking a lap back into the clubhouse and finishing in the Rays' batting cage. The goal of PLAY, which was created by the Professional Baseball Athletic Trainers Society (PBATS) in 2004, is to raise awareness for childhood health and obesity issues. For the stops at MLB ballparks, PBATS teams up with the Taylor Hooton Foundation, adding a piece to the curriculum about the dangers of performance-enhancing drugs.

After a trip to the video room, Porterfield led the tour through the home clubhouse and into the coaches' locker room. He dug through the files detailing pitcher, batter and umpire tendencies to give the guests a peek at how the Rays prepare and study opposing teams.

The tour then visited the kitchen, where Vinson preached the importance of nutrition, and the group learned more about the perils of PEDs. At its next stop, the crowd picked up an extra body.

As another lecture finished, Forsythe stepped into the training room from the clubhouse, clad in his Rays jersey. The second baseman is a member of the Hooton Foundation advisory board. He gave each child one of his bats and posed for a selfie in the weight room.

"You can't just get out there and take off running," Forsythe told the group. "I mean, y'all could probably right now, but once you get a little bit older, you have to start being a little bit more smart about your body."

The Rays' event Saturday was an intimate event.

What Porterfield fashioned amounted to a personal tour centered around personal well-being. He and his staff touched on mental health, nutrition and body mechanics. They taught the kids how to properly stretch and showed them how MLB teams prepare for games. They saw all the hot tubs, cold tubs, pools and training tables, and they got to occupy a near-empty clubhouse.

The tour finished in the batting cage, where the training staff led stretching drills and threw practice pitches. The experience wasn't typical or what the training staff envisioned at the start of the day, but it wound up being one of the most rewarding iterations of a longstanding event around MLB and Tampa Bay.

"Do what's fun to you," Harker said to the group as his final message of the day. "You guys are gonna do well."