Saturday, Feb. 10, was a busy morning at the MLK Recreation Center and Mike Sansone Park.
“Shoeless” Joe Jackson’s ghost didn’t visit a Plant City strawberry field on Feb. 10, but it looked like local coaches and organizations put their own twist on his famous (fictional) advice.
“If you teach it, they will come.”
The city played host to two baseball and softball clinics just over a mile apart that morning, and both netted a total of nearly 150 kids to fields at the MLK Recreation Center and Mike Sansone Park.
The Plant City Colts are known for football, but are branching out into baseball and softball. The organization held a clinic for both sports that morning for 42 Plant City youth interested in stepping up to the plate.
The Colts partnered with the Evan Michael Chambers L.O.V.E. Foundation and RBI Baseball to teach kids aged 5 through 15 the fundamentals of the game. They brought Sheldon Fulse, who played in Minor League Baseball from 1999 to 2008, along with former collegiate players Chris Geronimo (University of New Orleans baseball) and Deomni Davis (FIU softball), to coach the kids. The foundation sponsors the Evan Michael Chambers Youth Baseball and Softball League, for which RBI Baseball donates equipment.
The Chambers league partners with established football organizations to create baseball and softball leagues to give kids on the gridiron an affordable second option, as their families may not always be financially able to put them in baseball and softball leagues.
“We wanted to have a healthy alternative for them, and we provide this virtually free,” Denise Chambers said.
Plant City is the only Hillsborough County organization in its league, which also features Winter Haven, Lakeland, Bartow, Haines City and Lake Wales. All organizations have five to six teams in different age groups, and the new season begins March 3.
Evan Michael Chambers, a Pittsburgh Pirates third-round draft pick who spent five years in their minor league system, died suddenly in his sleep in 2013 due to an undetected heart defect. His parents, Dr. Evan F. and Denise Chambers, created the L.O.V.E. Foundation in his name to spread positive values to individuals and teach baseball to children. The latter was one of Chambers’ favorite pastimes in his free time — he and former college teammate Chris Geronimo had planned to work together to run camps for kids whenever they both stopped playing the game themselves.
“Their goal was to do this once Evan stopped playing ball and he stopped playing ball…he assists us whenever we need him,” Denise Chambers said. “He’s always here.”
Geronimo, a Miami-based travel ball coach, works with the foundation to host 30 to 40 clinics a year around the country. He said he does it to represent Chambers and “what he brought to the game,” and to get the kids ready for competitive leagues.
“We’re just trying to teach these kids the basic fundamentals of the game and how to prepare themselves for the game,” Geronimo said. “A lot of these kids, you know they can’t afford to get...all these types of lessons other kids are getting nowadays in the travel world.”
A short drive down Park Road, Plant City High School’s team was also showing kids the ropes.
Around 100 Plant City Little League players and coaches packed Mike Sansone Park Saturday morning to learn how the Plant City High School Raiders play (and coach) ball. Head coach Mike Fryrear and his team and staff hosted a clinic to teach hitting, fielding, agility and other skills and drills to participants from 10 a.m. to noon.
It was a return to a past format for the Raiders, who last year teamed up with Durant High School’s squad for a PCLL coaches’ clinic at the ballpark where the athletes performed drills to give youth coaches visual examples of how they could add to their own practices.
In the Feb. 10 clinic, Fryrear taught lessons inspired by his own work with the Raiders and from talks he had with area coaches Eric Beattie of Strawberry Crest and Butch Valdes and Donnie Scolaro of Durant. Though not all of the kids were about to make the jump from middle to high school, the theme of the day was prepping for prep ball in an area where the game is played at one of the highest levels in the state.
“It’s about kids who are getting ready to play high school baseball,” Fryrear said.
Raiders coaches said, after about 10 minutes of low turnout, their field was swarmed with more people than they expected to see throughout the entire morning. Drills and learning sessions were held in waves, with groups rotating from station to station after a certain amount of time. Fryrear roamed around the field and batting cage offering advice and leading lectures, but the high school student-athletes themselves worked directly with the kids to teach them how to throw, hit, field and move.