The taint on Major League Baseball has been in the news a lot in recent years. With admissions of past steroid use still getting attention, a group of former players wants to remind people — especially young fans — about the positive side of the sport.
That was one of the goals of the MLB Players Alumni Association, the Brooksville Parks and Recreation Department and the Hernando County Mining Association at a clinic Saturday at Tom Varn Park in Brooksville. Mike Walker, the director of parks and recreation for the city, has worked with the Players Alumni Association for the past four years to put on a free clinic for kids featuring former major league players.
"Baseball has had some stumbling blocks recently," said Walker, a former pitcher for the Cleveland Indians, Chicago Cubs and Detroit Tigers. "This camp is a bright spot for the game."
The mining association has been the primary sponsor of the event all four years, and Walker is quick to point out that without the group's financial support, none of the 175 kids at this year's event would have been able to take part.
"We average anywhere between 175 to 200 kids for any of our camps," MLB Players Alumni Association representative Chris Torgusen said. "We hold these clinics all over the country."
Kids at Saturday's clinic, some of whom came from as far as Orlando, got tips from eight former major leaguers, the highest number of former players on hand in the clinc's four-year history.
Riley McKinley, 9, and his mother, Nancy McElmurry, came from Tampa after hearing about the clinic in an e-mail from mlb.com. McElmurry didn't tell her son, who plays ball in the Keystone Little League in Tampa, that there were going to be professional baseball players at the clinic.
"This is our first camp, and I didn't really know what to expect," she said. "We would definitely do it again. He is having a lot of fun."
Riley was especially successful at former American League All-Star Ron LeFlore's hitting station. But, like every youth, he also got a chance to work with St. Louis Cardinals pitching legend Bob Forsch, former journeyman starting pitcher Dave LaPoint and former American All-Star Richie Scheinblum.
Forsch ran the pitching station along with former journeyman reliever John Frascatore, who also coached baseball at Nature Coast Technical High School last year. Forsch has lived in Hernando County for four years and has taken part in the local clinic for the past three. He has two no-hitters and a 20-win season on his career resume.
"We all started young, and that's the amazing thing," Forsch said. "There's a certain way you have to handle different ages of kids. The bigger kids get bored if you show them the small stuff."
It was a very young player that Forsch reached Saturday. It happened to be the youngest in the crowd.
Matthew DiRosa, 3, made the trip down from Lecanto with his parents, Brenda and Bob DiRosa, and his brothers: Brandon, 8, and Christopher, 9.
While the clinic was advertised for players between the ages of 7 and 14, they couldn't say no to Matthew, who came prepared with his cap and glove. Matthew didn't say much but obviously had picked up some skills from tagging along with his brothers in the Citrus County Little League.
"(Matthew) doesn't talk a whole lot," Brenda DiRosa said, "but he loves to play. He can already hit in the (batting cages)."
By all accounts, the clinic was a success, like the three others before it. And neither Walker nor the Players Alumni Association have any plans to end the local relationship.
"I'm always going to want to give back to the game," Walker said, "and there will always be something special about being a small community, having youngsters face to face with major-leaguers."