April 9, 2009
Rome, Ga. - Trying to hit a 90 mph fastball might be one of the toughest tasks a baseball player has to face, but that's pale in comparison to trying to help a three-year old swing a bat for the first time.
Just ask the Shorter College Hawks, who in spite of being in the middle of a season, have taken it upon themselves to pass along what they know about the game they love. They are helping more than 70 youngsters from the Rome-Floyd YMCA in more ways than one.
"When I signed up my son to play at the `Y' they asked me if I knew any coaches who could help," Shorter head coach Matt Larry said about how the Hawks became involved, "Then it hit me - our team could help out and do something.
"When I asked the team about it," he added, "they were all for it and came up with the names of the (YMCA) teams like Blackhawks and Chickenhawks - they used different types of hawks as names. They're all having a great time doing it."
The Hawks have been spending their afternoon three times a week working with the young want-to-be players for 30 minutes a day, introducing the little ones to the basic fundamentals of the game - hitting, throwing, catching and running - after practices and even games.
When the Hawks are scheduled for a road game, those players who are not on the travel roster keep the sessions going regardless of the weather.
"The kids and their parents are dedicated," Larry pointed out. "It doesn't matter what the weather is like. They'll always show up."
And when they do, both big and small players have given each other things to remember.
"One memory I'll always have," said Shorter infielder Joey Taylor, a junior from Griffin, "is when one of the kids was real scared to get into the batting cage and hit off a `T'. He was so scared he started crying. I told him that I would hit one first and after I did, I asked him to try it. After he hit it that first time, he didn't want to let the bat go. He didn't want to leave."
"We're having a great time with the kids," Taylor added. "It's probably more fun for us than it is for them. It takes you back to when the game was fun."
That, Larry points out, has become an unexpected benefit for the Hawks.
"Our players see the innocence in the kids," he said. "Everything they see is honest and pure, and I want the guys to see the purity of the game."
More than anything, the six-week program (Larry said that there is a good chance it will be extended because of its success) has become a dose of good medicine for the Hawks.
"It takes our mind off of everything," Taylor said, "like what goes on in the classroom, the upcoming final exams and what we face when we play.
"And when we go out to practice the next day, we all seem to have more fun."