One of the surest signs of a baseball offseason in Cincinnati is the cool yet comfortable fall temperatures starting to plummet in preparation for the winter months ahead. But with the P&G MLB Cincinnati Reds Youth Academy being immune to Mother Nature, baseball and softball activities have remained in full swing.
Since mid-October, it’s been non-stop action inside the walls of the Academy for kids as young as 4 and as old as 18. In October, there were 1,270 program visits, and that number jumped up to 2,094 for November. Similar numbers were tracking for December with programming wrapping up before the holidays.
For the youngest crop of aspiring ballplayers, the Academy hosted the Fun At Bat program on Saturdays this fall for ages 4-7. Through this partnership between the Reds Community Fund and USA Baseball, kids learn every aspect of the game, all while placing an emphasis on character development, functional movement, literacy, active play and fun.
For the more experienced players, Reds RBI baseball and softball student-athletes have had the chance to hone their skills with training sessions focused on the fundamentals of hitting, fielding, pitching and baserunning. The Academy also offered clinics tailored to develop speed, agility and strength.
As is often the case, some MLB guests spent time at the Academy as well during the fall. Reds first baseman Joey Votto has continued his tradition of volunteering and giving back, having visited several times to participate in some of the strength and conditioning programs. Cincinnati native, Moeller High School alum and current Colorado Rockies reliever Brent Suter has stopped by numerous times. And on Dec. 1, Reds catcher Tyler Stephenson and his wife, Carlyn, gave away New Balance backpacks filled with Reds swag to the 12U baseball and softball teams.
On Wednesday and Thursday nights, Academy visitors ages 8-12 had the opportunity to learn from more of the Tri-State’s best. Members of the Northern Kentucky University (NKU) softball team and Xavier University (XU) baseball team took time each week to conduct training sessions.
NKU is the only Division 1 softball program in the region, and their head coach, Kathryn Gleason, has had her players helping with fall clinics since 2016. She was introduced to the Reds Youth Academy when it was selected to host the RBI World Series that year. At the press conference announcing the Academy as the site for the event, she met Herb Riley, who oversees the Reds Community Fund’s softball programs and girls fast pitch RBI teams. Riley gauged Gleason’s interest in conducting some weekly clinics, and NKU has done so ever since.
“We thoroughly enjoy coming each week to work with the young girls that attend the clinics,” Gleason said. “This year has been especially rewarding, as the numbers of girls attending has grown each week. The interactions we have with them is fun, different each week and rewarding as we are able to give back to the game that has given so much to us. We are so appreciative of the relationship we have with the Cincinnati Reds and the Academy."
It’s been just as fun for XU. Fifth-year senior Jack Housinger has been attending and helping run the sessions all five years he has played for the Musketeers. As the team’s elder statesman, he’s in charge of making sure the clinics run smoothly and ensuring his teammates show up. Getting a group of college kids to volunteer on a Thursday night would seem like a challenge, but it’s been the complete opposite with this group. Once they experienced it for the first time, there was no pitch necessary to get them to come back.
“We have a group text with everyone on the team to keep them updated on whatever’s going on, and it dawned on me as I drove over here that I didn’t send a reminder to the guys about tonight, so I figured some of them definitely forgot,” Housinger said prior to a session in November. “Next thing I know, somebody responds and there’s a selfie of a huge group of them already here, so they were super excited to get out here. It just tells you how much they enjoy doing it and look forward to it.”
XU freshman Jack Niedringhaus, a St. Louis native, was unfamiliar with all that happens at the Reds Youth Academy prior to assisting at the weekly camps. But he’s enjoyed his time teaching the kids for many different reasons.
“I’ve never been exposed to anything like this before, and that’s why I’ve loved it so much and found it to be so rewarding,” he said. “Being baseball players and with the knowledge we have, we not only get to provide that for kids, but also some fun and hopefully set a good example of someone they can grow up to be. It’s fun for us and brings us closer together as a team, too. And it’s cool to be able to see them at this age when it’s just fun. It definitely helps remind me why I love the game so much, thinking back to when I was at this age and what my dream was.”