MLB Players Association clinic teaches fundamentals
More than 100 kids get tutorial from former big leaguers at Boston Common
BOSTON -- On a dirt-covered baseball field in the middle of the Boston Common -- a smaller Central Park with thinner patches of foliage and a less-intimidating skyline -- 10-year-old Alexander Quiles is sprinting around the bases. His smile is almost as loud as his scream. He's been out in the sunshine for almost three hours.
Four blocks away, Copley Plaza is finally open, just more than a week after Boston Marathon bombing suspect Dzhokhar Tsarnaev was captured, finally releasing locals from a city-wide lockdown that created the most eerie of Friday mornings.
Quiles was one of more than 100 kids on the field Saturday, taking advantage of a free clinic offered by the MLB Players Alumni Association, with help from Longwood Giving, that allows children to learn fundamentals from former Major Leaguers, get a free lunch, a few autographs and hours of unrestricted energy release.
For many of these kids, that energy had built up long enough.
"He could stay here all day if you let him, believe me," said Quiles' father, Jose, who lives in Mission Hill about two miles away. "He's still right there, playing around."
Jose Quiles said Little League in Mission Hill went on with their parade last Saturday, the day after the capture.
A full week of answering questions from a 10-year-old about why someone would leave a bomb on the sidewalk was followed with two straight baseball-filled Saturdays for the Quiles family.
"I think they needed that," Jose Quiles said. "We're talking about these kids between the ages of 6-12. They're still young. They don't want to be cooped up.
"They like this. We're trying to take their minds off everything going on."
At some point, the hope is that temporary distractions are no longer required. Weeks, maybe. Months, likely. But baseball has played that role well.
Former Red Sox left-hander Bill Lee made one of his infrequent trips into the city on Saturday morning. He claims that spending time with other people isn't one of his favorite activities. He'd rather be in his Vermont home, doing yoga or making more of his specially-designed big-knob wooden bats that he believes should be used by all young baseball players.
However, eager-to-learn children are Lee's exception to the rule, and his glued-on smile paired with the ability to make anyone laugh is a rock-solid alibi.
Lee moved from kid to kid, patting one on the head, telling another to lower his rear when fielding a ground ball. The child listens. He makes a smooth play the next time Lee bounces the ball off the dirt.
"It's funny," says Randy Brenton, a parent from Kingston, Mass., who brought his three kids, Heather, 10, CJ, 8, and Nolan, 6. "When you tell your kids they're not going down properly for a ground ball, and daddy tells them, it doesn't sink in as much as it does coming from an ex-Red Sox player. That seems to have a little more weight to it."
Lee joined former Major Leaguers Kevin McGlinchy, Keith MacWhorter, Joe Morgan (the former Sox manager, not the Reds second baseman), Dave Stenhouse, Joe Johnson, Kevin Buckley, Rawly Eastwick and Bobby Taylor in the effort Saturday morning.
Everything they did seemed to have more weight to it. Relieved parents sipped coffee during a relaxation break on the park benches.
"I work with [kids] all the time," said Lee. "I try to tell them, 'Stay in school, don't lose your day job,' because most of them aren't going to make it. All of them have the heart and desire; they think they're going to be pro ball players, but it's one in a million that makes it."
Quiles said he doesn't expect the clinic to turn his kid into a future Major Leaguer. He's not too worried about that. His son sailed a throw well over a nearby glove being held as a target and Quiles smiled.
In a wide-open park, in a city that could feel freedom on Saturday morning, baseball was simply another distraction.
And it played the part well.
"You're immortal when you're young," Lee said. "Or you think like a 7-year-old. So I tell everybody to think like a 7-year-old. You're indestructible. You're bulletproof."