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Mets farmhands shoot for maximum impact with new program

July 12, 2006|by BOB PARASILITI

Minor league baseball is a "here today, gone tomorrow" proposition.

The majority of players come and go through towns across the country, playing for one season at each rung in a quest to make the major leagues.

Their impact is minimal. A player's batting average or pitching record leaves a more lasting impression on local fans than the player himself.

The New York Mets organization would like to make the stays in places like Hagerstown more memorable - and educational - for players and fans alike.

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The Mets have implemented the first stages of an educational program named "Ballfields and Boardrooms" in an effort to teach local youth and players alike the social aspects of surviving in the real world.

"This is an educational program that we are trying to help players after they are done with baseball," said program director Richard Astro, a Drexel University professor. "These players aren't going to play forever."

The Hagerstown Suns have launched one of the pilot programs for the Mets, trying to give their players a social conscience in the towns in which they play while leaving a lasting impression on the children and fans.

Suns players have been working with and making appearances at the Boys and Girls Clubs of Washington County on Pennsylvania Avenue and Frederick Manor as part of the program. They will sponsor seminars today and on July 24, working with a collection of Hagerstown businessmen and professionals to provide local youth a background in the art of communication and teamwork while the players learn some of the same lessons themselves.

State Farm Insurance also will participate, presenting a program in financial education aimed at teaching youth the art of dealing with money.

"If you can't communicate, you can't function," Astro said. "If a player can't communicate with their coach when they are playing, they aren't going to be very successful. Communication, teamwork, rapport building and ethics are all vital."

For the Mets, it's a chance to help their players understand the ideas behind public speaking and interviewing in the event they make it to the media center of New York. There also are the aspects of career planning, internships, and resum writing, education and service learning, just in case they never make it to the majors.

The idea revolves around communication, which players need both on and off the field.

"These players have put their education on hold and cut their chances of earning a degree," Astro said. "They had to choose between going to school or playing baseball. They can't do both."

The Mets recognized the players made a commitment to their organization and are attempting to make one in return. The program started on the suggestion of former Los Angeles Dodger pitcher Sandy Koufax.

"This started as an education program, but what happened was it became apparent that there is no connection between the players and the places where they play," Astro said. "What are we going to do about it? The vast majority of the players are only here one year. It is a benefit to make a connection with the community. The fans who attend games are mostly Hagerstown Suns fans, not New York Mets fans. Once the players are gone, they are forgotten."

There are 14-15 Suns players involved with the program along with eight local professionals from various businesses who have volunteered to work the two programs at Municipal Stadium. The Suns are one of three teams - along with Single-A St. Lucie and Triple-A Norfolk - of the seven in the Mets minor league organization implementing the program. Next season, every Mets player will be required to participate.

The children, ages 6-12, will be attending a two-hour long seminar at Municipal Stadium. They will be divided into small groups and rotated through four 20-minute presentations - on communication, teamwork, rapport and ethics - given by player-local professional teams. Afterwards, the children will be allowed to go on the field to mingle with the players and get autographs.

"We are going to try and address them on situations that happen both on ballfields and in boardrooms everyday," Astro said. "We want to strike a balance so the young kids realize that there is something that they can use. It all comes down to character building for all kids."

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