Young British players get a taste of the Major Leagues

Wed 21 Nov 2012

by Liam Carroll

Nearly 200 young players got aThe MLB players with the kids of the EBLT personal taste of Major League Baseball on Saturday, 17 November when the 3rd annual European Big League Tour came to London for the first time, and Major League players spent the day instructing at clinics, signing autographs and answering questions at the London Soccerdome.

The idea for the EBLT originated with Dutch pitcher Rick VandenHurk, who has fulfilled his own dream of playing in the Major Leagues after being signed by the Florida Marlins in 2002.  Now playing for the Pittsburgh Pirates, VandenHurk wanted to bring that same dream and passion to young players in Europe by giving them the chance to meet and practice with some of his Big League peers.

“When I was little, I was a big baseball fan, but I never really got the chance to go to the United States and watch any Major League games.  I decided to set up a tour and bring baseball here.” – Rick VandenHurk

Five players

Representing Major League Baseball along with VandenHurk was pitcher Jeremy Guthrie (Kansas City Royals) and outfielders Roger Bernadina (Washington Nationals) and Chris Dickerson (New York Yankees).  Dutchman and Seattle Mariners farmhand Kalian Sams completed a staff of passionate pros.

“The London stop of the EBLT was amazing.  There was tremendous participation from coaches, players and, most importantly, local youth.  There were a ton of very talented and enthusiastic participants.  I look forward to returning soon to the UK to see how these kids progress.  They have great coaches who are motivated and share a love for baseball so I know they are in good hands.”  – Jeremy Guthrie

From rookies to Great Britain youth players, boys and girls from all over the country shared the stage with their heroes.  Slick fielders, strong arms and big bats highlighted the diversity of the sport but a common feature was the enjoyment shared by all involved with the clinics.

“Everywhere I look I see smiles – great evidence that this event is achieving Rick’s goals for the EBLT and inspiring our young players to be the best they can be.  We’re fuelling their Big League dreams and it’s awesome to think that in the future one of these kids could suit up for a Major League team.”  – Liam Carroll (BSUK Regional Coach and Club Development Officer for London)

Five groups

Divided into five groups, aspiring The MLB players sign autographs for the kids at the EBLT clinicsBig Leaguers aged 8 to 18 rotated through stations manned by one of the Major League players and by a GB international.  On the field, players were put through their paces with infield, outfield, pitching and hitting drills.  Meanwhile, in an adjoining classroom, players and their parents were able to pick the stars’ brains in Question and Answer sessions. 

Each of the stars brought his own unique style and techniques to the clinics.  But it was a big positive that much of their instruction was similar to that provided at BSUK's Academy Baseball and Academy Softball, a testament to the excellent work going on at Milton Keynes throughout the winter.

In addition to the MLB stars, each station was staffed by players and coaches from BBF clubs and Academy Baseball.  Coaches from the West Country to the Lake District assisted in the delivery of the clinics, with travel to and from London being a small price to pay for the opportunity.

“It’s not often that I’m out of the door before my baby daughter even wakes up but it was totally worthwhile to rub shoulders with these MLB players.  I’d do it again in a heartbeat,” commented Phil Matthews, former GB Junior and current Bracknell Blazers slugger, who made the trek from Exeter on Saturday morning.

Full commitment

BSUK, in conjunction with Major League Baseball and London Sports, pulled out all the stops in hosting the EBLT, perhaps best evidenced by the venue.  The London Soccerdome, a stone’s throw from the O2 Arena and originally the David Beckham Academy, was hand-picked to house the clinics.

A hit with MLB players and children alike, the biggest indoor football arena in Europe proved to be the perfect space to hone baseball skills in the dead of winter, and even to host a pick-up football match between the Big Leaguers, although their off-season fitness levels became apparent when GB players were needed to sub in.

From the plentiful gift-bags presented to the participants to a soundtrack planned to the second, the clinics showcased BSUK’s ability to plan and deliver events on a grand scale.

However more than any other detail, the real key to the success of the EBLT was the people involved.  Orchestrated by BSUK's Head of Operations Jenny Fromer, a group of tireless volunteers manned registration tables, ushered crowds, looked after each group of children and took care of myriad other tasks, large and small, to make the event run smoothly.

“The passion our community has for growing the sport shone through today and I’m so grateful for the time that so many people have given up to make the EBLT not only possible but a resounding success.” – Jenny Fromer (BSUK Joint CEO and Head of Operations)

Moving ahead

By working with parents, clubs and the Federations, BSUK aims to keep up the momentum provided by the European Big League Tour.  Existing programmes such as Academy Baseball and Academy Softball are in place to help our youth players reach their potential and BSUK development staff will continue working with clubs and leagues to provide the best possible opportunities for a generation of ballplayers more motivated than ever. 

“I think that that the best thing to have come out of the EBLT visit to London was that every child who left the Soccerdome carried with them a dream to be a Major Leaguer and that's not something you get every day in this country.  I'd love to see how they all carry this into their next Academy Baseball or Softball sessions and into the 2013 season." – John Boyd (BSUK Joint CEO and Head of Development)

Following a day in the company of Rick VandenHurk and his MLB friends, Britain’s aspiring baseball talent has been shown that, with grit and determination, making the Big Leagues isn’t an impossible dream.

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