Baseball players from little league to high school age had the chance to learn from some of the best at a clinic held by four ex-MLB players at Mingus Union High School on Thursday, June 29.
Although likely names more recognizable to their parents than the players themselves, Ron Davis, Lou Klimchock, Dave Hilton and Ken Phelps were all on hand teaching lessons in baseball, and then some.
“We just try to tell the kids the importance of school and be a part of the team,” Phelps said. “And we encourage them to understand that baseball is a game of failure, and it’s a good life lesson, things like that. And then we teach baseball.”
Of course an added bonus for the kids was that it was not any ordinary group of coaches teaching them.
“I know when I was growing up as a kid if I’d ever had a major league guy come and speak to us about how to play better and how to play at the highest level, I’d be all ears,” Phelps said. “So I think in a lot of regards kids that are really serious, they respect having guys around who have played at the highest level.”
Each player worked with groups of players focusing one of the three main aspects of the game: Pitching, fielding and batting.
Davis, a pitcher for 11 MLB seasons between 1978 and 1988 that included one World Series appearance, worked with pitchers one-on-one.
“We worked on the kids’ mechanics, getting them to simplify,” Davis said. “At this age kids have a lot of movement in their delivery and have lots of things to get them to change. The less moving parts, the more consistent they can be.”
With some he talked about foot placement and where they looked, while with others it was more about arm delivery and using their body.
“They did well. We can’t change them in a day or an hour, but we can give them something to work on,” Davis said. “Hopefully they can keep working on it.”
Hilton, who played from 1972 to 1975 with the San Diego Padres, worked on infielding while Phelps and Klimchock worked with batting.
The clinic began with Hilton and Klimchock leading a set of stretches before the players broke into groups.
Hilton began with the youngest of players, working on throwing fundamentals. They eventually progressed into basic fielding and finally into drills that involved fielding a ground ball and throwing to a teammate.
It ended with working on double play situations, fielding a ground ball and underhanding it to their teammate who then threw to a volunteer coach, all conscious of their body position.
“Baseball is a lot of intricate things and a lot of subtle things,” Hilton said. “We’re trying to break it down into a handful of drills first. Then we try to take the habits they develop in the drills and take it into live action.”
Hilton’s older group worked on most of the same things as the younger group. It also worked on fielding fly balls and throwing to a cutoff man, who then threw to third base. The emphasis was on the third baseman vocally lining up the cutoff man with him.
At Phelps’ batting station, he gave each player a round in a cage. Afterward he talked to them about keeping their hits flat, starting with the fundamentals of their swing.
But what he emphasized more than just hitting knowledge was the wisdom he imparted about what it takes to become a great player.
“If you’re taking 100 swings a day, then you’re on level with everyone else,” he said. “Get a friend and come down here, or get a batting tee and hit by yourself.”
The clinic ended with a batting practice session before everyone was fed pizza and had a chance to talk with the players about their time in the big leagues.
The clinic was sponsored by APS, with whom Phelps works, the first ever to be held in Cottonwood. Phelps and Marauders coach Bob Young share a common bond; both played at Arizona State University, where Phelps left just before Young started.
The company reaches out to communities in which it provides power to give the opportunity for clinics to be held. Phelps mentioned one might happen in the future in Camp Verde, whose field was helped to be built by APS.