At FanFest on February 8th, the Arizona Diamondbacks unveiled the D-backs Give Back Jersey Program that would provide Diamondbacks jerseys and caps to more than 22,000 youth baseball and softball players throughout Arizona. The program has been very well received and the team currently has enough requests to be queued up for five seasons.
The kids wearing the jerseys at FanFest were extremely excited but that was just the beginning. Today at Salt River Fields, the Arizona Diamondbacks invited Little League players from the Ahwatukee area to join them for spring training.
After the Diamondbacks players finished their daily workout routine, several of the players made their way to Randy Johnson field at Salt River to meet the youngsters and participate in an exhibition game.
Diamondbacks outfielder Cody Ross walked out onto the field to a large amount of cheers. He gathered the kids around him and talked to them about his experiences as a ballplayer. After providing them with a little insight they started the game.
Both teams of Little Leaguers were wearing jerseys from the D-backs Give Back Jersey Program. One team was dressed in green D-backs jerseys while the other team sported gold jerseys with Sedona Red lettering.
As the game started shortstop Didi Gregorius and outfielder AJ Pollock joined in on the fun. Each of the Diamondbacks players went out onto the field with the Little Leaguers and gave them tips while playing. They also took turns taking an at-bat against the 9 year-old hurlers on the mound. Pollock seemed genuinely surprised at the pitching and confidence the opposition had on the mound having to foul off a couple of pitches he could not catch up to.
Even D.Baxter got into the act playing in the outfield and making fun of the first-base and third-base coaches. Part way through the game relief pitcher Brad Ziegler came running onto the field. He mentioned that he had just heard about this event and wanted to get involved.
The kids and their parents all seemed to enjoy their time at Salt River Fields. From the smiles and wide eyes I say it is clear to say they were at first in awe that they were playing with Major League Baseball players.
Like many young players they soon realized that the game was the same whether they were nine or an adult. As they became more comfortable they were more relaxed and began really having fun,
Former Diamondback player and now coach Mike Fetters stopped by to watch and commented about how great the kids looked out on the field. Hall of Fame executive Roland Hemond could be heard telling everyone he was here to do a little scouting and there just may be a Hall of Fame player out on this field.
At the end of the day these kids were able to see what it was like to play ball with a major leaguer. It’s something they will talk about for the rest of their lives. There is nothing quite like lacing up those cleats, sliding a glove on your hand or gripping a bat to make all of us little boys who play just because we love the game.
I’m sure there will be a few kids that will crawl into bed tonight still wearing a smile on their faces thinking about what they did today. That may be just the motivation one of these kids needs to fulfill their lifelong dream of playing baseball professionally. Maybe in 10-15 years we will see one of these kids interviewed after signing their first contract to start their journey to the big leagues. Hopefully I’ll be around to hear them recount that day in the spring of 2014 when they got to be an Arizona Diamondback and play in major league camp.