Kids have a ball as Suns deliver message

June 18, 2005|by BOB PARASILITI

Anthony Simmons was having the day of his life.

He got the chance to meet and play with a few Hagerstown Suns players in his own backyard. He had an autographed baseball in one hand and just finished a free burger with the other.

Life was good - and he vows to remember Friday forever because it will only help make his life better.

Baseball became a whole new ball game on Friday for 25 children, who learned about the dangers of smoking and the benefits of keeping their eyes on the ball in a free baseball clinic held by the Suns in partnership with Each One, Teach One and Big Bats Caf at Wheaton Park in Hagerstown.

"It was kind of weird," Simmons said. "It's not normal to see baseball players out here behind my house."

Simmons, an 11-year-old player for American Little League, got something out of the baseball instruction from Suns players Derran Watts, Dante Brinkley and Ambiorix Concepcion. He retained more of the life lesson that came with it.


"It was cool," Simmons said. "Some people smoke because they think it makes them look cool. They don't know what's in cigarettes. It's like a drug. I learned about the drugs. I'm going to remember this because I have family members who have been in drugs and smoke."

It was the message the Suns and Each One, Teach One wanted to get across.

The clinic was a community effort started by the Suns, made possible through the Cigarette Restitution Fund through the Washington County Health Department.

"We are trying to get out and have a link with the community," said Suns assistant general manager Will Smith. "We started out by getting the kids together and I gave a tobacco prevention program and passed out some brouchures. It was about trying to stop smoking for life, but it wasn't only cigarettes. Baseball has an image of using smokeless tobacco, too, and the players brought the message that they can't use it, so the kids shouldn't either."

After the talk, the players gave fielding, hitting and defensive footwork lessons to the campers.

Young players, such as Lacey Smith, got the message right away. The 10-year-old from Keedysville plays for Sportsland of the South Mountain Little League. She came for some baseball instruction, but got much more.

"It made an impression," she said. "They told us about not smoking and chewing tobacco and to stay out of drugs. I hear that all the time, but hearing it from the players was big. Usually baseball players don't smoke and they are more focused. They don't chew tobacco, they chew gum."

Watts, Concepcion and Brinkley are all a couple years removed from hearing the same advice. It made coming out and spending a couple hours with Hagerstown's youth all the more important.

"This was a good opportunity for us to get out and meet the kids who normally don't get that close to us," said Watts, an outfielder. "It's a good message for the kids to get to know. We would love to have every kid go out and say they got a shirt and remember what we say. That's not going to happen. But if we can help just one kid, this is all worth it."

In some cases, it hit close to home.

"I love to teach kids," said Concepcion, the Suns' center fielder. "I have two little brothers myself. I wanted to try to show them to have a focus on sports. I want to show them how important focusing on sports can carry over to life."

In a perfect world, that carryover is exactly what Brian Robinson, the director of Each One, Teach One, would love to have. Each One, Teach One is an outreach program created to work with inner-city and at-risk youths. The message on the front of Robinson's T-Shirt read, "Every adult is responsible for one youth in the community."

"A lot of youth don't have any authority figures in their life," Robinson said. "I think any time you get kids together and give them information, they will use it either now or later.

"I think this was a nice influence coming from minor league baseball players. They are role models. It was great that all the players were Afro-Americans who came out to this historic Afro-American community. They sat and ate lunch with the kids and allowed the kids to see that they made it out."

The Suns made an impact behind the nonsmoking message.

"Smoking is a drug and cigarettes are evil," said Nicholas Rhodes, 8, of Boonsboro. "I have never been to a Suns game, but I want to go now. It was great to hear the baseball players, but I still plan on listening to my mom."

But 6-year-old Tyejah Thomas put the whole message in the simplist of terms.

"Baseball players don't smoke and do stuff like that," she said. "They are trying to live, not die."

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