Major League Baseball Stars Light Up Slugger Field
Major League Baseball stars light-up Slugger Field
by Steve Thompson
They call it the Bluegrass World Series, and it has lived up to the hype. Combine six wooden bat teams from the East Coast and 38 former major league players, and you’ve got one great event. The Louisville Bats hosted the Bluegrass All-Stars, which showcased a roster featuring players from 68 all-star appearances, 22 World-Series Champions and two members of the National Baseball Hall of Fame.
Players included pitchers Andy Sonnastine, Jake Peavy, Brad Penny, Jason Marquis, Tim Hudson, Roy Oswalt and Joe Nathan to name a few. Hall of Famers Chipper Jones and Johnny Bench were on hand, along with Yankee greats Johnny Damon and Nick Swisher. Louisville’s own Chris Sullivan (Ballard high School) and Chris Burke (St Xavier High School), added the local connection.
With unrestricted access to the All-Stars, The Sporting Times was provided with an amazing opportunity to talk about the importance and significance of youth baseball, with some of the biggest names in the game. Many of the players had their kids in tow, each with a matching jersey and glove, adding to the authenticity of the night.
Johnny Bench was asked about the importance of youth baseball in the development of the game. He smiled and said, “to see the joy that kids get from the game, to see the social skills kids develop, the teamwork, discipline, practice and hard work, I still believe youth baseball is the framework for everything we do. Everyone of these guys out here tonight started out in youth ball. If you work hard, anything is possible in baseball and the skills kids learn in youth ball, are reinforced everyday they take the field, even as a major league player”.
Former New York Yankee infielder, Nick Swisher, suggested that baseball set the standard for all other youth sports to follow, “We were first and everybody else just followed suit. Youth baseball is the backbone of our sport. We still get all jacked up when we come out here. Some of these guys are grandpa’s and they can still throw 90 plus mph. Standing room only at the Little League World Series says it all man, when ESPN carries it live and its 12 year-old kids, that says it all about youth baseball”.
Johnny Damon, another Yankee great, said he will never forget his youth baseball days. “I still remember my coaches, other players and even some big games we won. My journey to this point started in youth baseball. Although I played other sports, baseball tradition, baseball’s history and my desire to play professionally, aligned me to the game. The purist form of this sport is youth ball. All our kids play, and for most of us we have even taken a shot at coaching, which completes the cycle.”
Louisville’s Chris Burke, who graduated from St. Xavier High School, is committed to helping younger players develop. Burke who provides camp and private baseball training for area student athletes, played for the Astros, Diamond Backs and Padres. Although Burkes performance on the field was impressive, his love for the game and kids, coupled with his proven perseverance, provide the perfect skill combination to teach and develop youth baseball players. “Youth baseball teaches kids more than just fielding and hitting skills, it teaches them life-skills, how to cope when things don’t go well, how to work hard to achieve your goals and how to overcome obstacles. When you think about it, baseball teaches failure first, then proficiency. The fact that a kid can overcome an obstacle and turn it into a skill because of hard work, that’s what makes baseball special”.
Listening to two former Yankees reminisce about their youth baseball days was amazing. Johnny Damon and Nick Swisher told stories of their worse youth baseball performances, pranks they played on other players and stories about their colorful coaches. As they laughed, I realized what it is that truly makes baseball work for so many people. It’s the joy that comes from the game, its tradition and history. The love and commitment players, fans and coaches share for the game and the timeless sound of, the crack of the bat and a shot goes yard and the place goes nuts…. that’s baseball.