TAMPA — Sixty-two local children were introduced to baseball like few have been, on the pristine fields of the Yankees' spring training complex, learning from former major league players like Tino Martinez and Gerald Williams.
That was part of the joy of this week's first Tampa youth baseball clinic sponsored by Yankee shortstop Derek Jeter's Turn 2 Foundation. The foundation has put on clinics in New York and Jeter's hometown of Kalamazoo, Mich., but this was the first in Tampa and organizers hope it becomes an annual spring break event.
The four-day clinic, done in partnership with the Tampa Parks and Recreation Department, was for 7- to 13-year-olds from all parts of the city — from Port Tampa to New Tampa — with emphasis on teaching baseball fundamentals as well as life lessons.
"I think this is really important," said Charles Jeter, Derek's father and Turn 2's vice president. "In terms of giving back to the kids, it's not all about baseball. It's about putting kids in a positive environment. We're not looking to find the next major league ballplayer. We're looking to give these kids a positive outlet."
Locally, the Turn 2 Foundation also hosts a winter golf tournament in Avila, partners with the Phoenix House to help with alcohol and drug addition treatment for youths and has pledged money for scholarships for underprivileged youths at the St. Peter Claver Catholic School. The foundation holds clinics and leadership workshops and has given more than $8-million in grants to support activities that motivate healthy lifestyles for kids.
For the kids here on Field 2 of the Yankees' minor-league complex, right in the shadow of Steinbrenner Field, this week was about baseball. They practiced taking grounders, throwing and hitting, many for the first time.
"These aren't baseball kids," said Cathie Schanz, a manager for Tampa Parks and Recreation. "We didn't go out to the Little Leagues. A lot of these children are being introduced to baseball for the first time."
And they weren't baseball historians either.
"Did you know Babe Ruth?" one child asked Martinez, the Tampa native who won four World Series rings with the Yankees from 1995 to 2000 and also played for the hometown Rays.
Martinez, who played at Jefferson and UT and now coaches at USF, placed an emphasis on doing well in school.
"First and foremost, you always have to make sure you have good grades," Martinez said. "I played on my high school team and college team and I had to make sure I had a certain GPA to keep playing."
One topic that didn't come up was steroids and other performance-enhancing drugs, which have cast a dark cloud on the game, but Martinez said it's never too early to talk to kids about the perils of steroids.
"It didn't come up today, but normally I would talk about it," he said. "Kids ask about it a lot. I just tell them that if you really work hard, you'll make it. They know about it. They read the paper and see it on TV. I just tell them it's not worth it and that nothing replaces hard work."