CHICAGO -- With U.S. Cellular Field as their backdrop, dozens of kids ages 5 through 12 participated in the "Wanna Play?" youth baseball clinic at Armour Square Park in advance of the seventh annual Major League Baseball Civil Rights Game between the White Sox and Rangers on Saturday.
The program was co-sponsored by MLB and the White Sox, and run by the Bulls/Sox Academy, a joint organization between the White Sox and Chicago Bulls developed in 1994 to teach skills in baseball, softball and basketball.
Mike Huff, a former outfielder for the White Sox from 1991-93, is the vice president of sports for the Bulls/Sox Academy, and said that holding the youth clinic before and near the Civil Rights Game was impactful.
"To have us be a part of [the Civil Rights Game activities] is very special," Huff said. "We're getting the kids to realize there's more than just the sport. We'll do [well] about teaching them how to do better on the field … but to really make sure these kids understand there's so much more than just the game. … We're just very excited to be part of this today."
The participating children broke into stations to learn throwing, fielding, hitting and baserunning. There was also a station for learning about what a Major League clubhouse is like, run by former White Sox player and teammate of Huff, Dan Pasqua.
"Dan is actually saying [to the kids], 'Here's what a clubhouse feels like and looks like; here's what your day [as] a Major Leaguer [is like],'" Huff said.
Mike Bednarz and Mike Morgan, who have been with the Bulls/Sox Academy for 10 and 15 years, respectively, emphasized that not only do they teach youngsters the fundamentals of baseball, but also about its rich history, especially when it comes to Jackie Robinson's breaking of the color barrier in 1947.
"Jackie Robinson had a dream to play baseball," Morgan said. "Because of Jackie Robinson's dream, we can offer the dream up for kids."
"We talk to kids in our camps about Jackie Robinson," Bednarz said. "We have for years, because we want kids to shoot high [and] we want kids to keep fighting for their dreams."
For parents like Rebecca Guerrero, who had three children -- ages 5, 7 and 10 -- participating in the clinic, her kids were thrilled to be able to take part, and the message that she sees from Major League Baseball is one of education and inclusion.
"It's wonderful," she said. "It's an awesome opportunity for [the kids] to even think that they're anywhere near the White Sox [stadium]. … [The message it sends] is that it's a wonderful sport that is open for anybody [of] any ethnic background … it's open for a wide range of people -- big guys, little guys, any race or ethnicity."
Many of the children wore blue Dodgers shirts with the No. 42 on the back along with blue caps with the No. 42 on the front. Both were a reminder of what the pioneering Robinson accomplished in 1947 and the legacy he left for generations to come, including the kids learning about baseball at Armour Square Park on Saturday.
"Jackie Robinson stood for so many different things: integrity, sportsmanship, perseverance," Morgan added. "When Mike [Huff] asked me to work [this clinic], I jumped to the opportunity."
Manny Randhawa is an associate reporter for MLB.com.