Several hundred baseball-loving youngsters gathered at the Conejo Creek Ballpark for the Mike Scioscia Youth Baseball Clinic under overcast skies Saturday morning.
Joining the Angels manager were pitchers Jered Weaver and Darren O'Day, catcher Mike Napoli, third-base coach Dino Ebel and broadcasters Rory Markas and Jose Mota.
The message was simple.
"This game is for the kids," Scioscia said, as encouragement to the assembled players but also as a reminder to the parents and coaches of the true mission of youth leagues.
In conjunction with the Amateur Baseball Development Group, the open-to-the-public clinic allowed youth players of all ages to work out at a variety of stations set up in the outfield. Prizes were also awarded during a friendly trivia Q-and-A session that was emceed by Markas and Mota.
Autograph stations were then set up in the dugouts, along the baselines and in the outfield to give everyone in attendance the opportunity to get a ball, jersey or one of the free Angels hats signed.
In between, the kids were reminded that the path to the big leagues begins on fields just like their own.
"When I was this age, I was rolling around in the dirt. That is what it is all about playing Little League," said O'Day, who made his first big league roster this spring. "First, have fun. What we do is a job -- it is a great job -- but some of my fondest memories are rolling around with my buddies."
O'Day, who was accepted to the University of Florida's medical school but chose to pursue his dream of becoming a professional baseball player, also took the opportunity to drive home the importance of education.
"You want to have a back-up plan in life," O'Day said. "I have a lot of friends who don't know what they're doing, but I have [my college degree] to fall back on."
The kids were also treated to some tips from the pros.
Weaver spent his younger days playing ball at nearby Santa Susana Boys Baseball and Simi Youth Baseball. The tall right-hander demonstrated his four-seam grip and the grip on his changeup, but as much, he cautioned the prospective pitchers to keep it simple and avoid movement that can damage young arms.
"No matter how good a curveball looks on TV, it puts a strain on your arm," Weaver said. "Hold off with it. Stick with the fastball and learn to throw the changeup before the curve."
Napoli said Weaver is probably the easiest pitcher on the staff to catch because of his good control, but added Francisco Rodriguez is the toughest because of his hard-breaking slider. He then demonstrated the proper method of blocking a pitch in the dirt.
But he also responded to Scioscia, who teased him about liking to eat.
"He is always on me about my weight," Napoli said. "I think I look pretty good."
A number of warmup jackets, autographed bats and even a few passes to this summer's California Collegiate League at Cal Lutheran University were handed out to the few brave kids willing to answer one of Markas' trivia questions,
Correct answer or not, none were sent away empty-handed. Confident 3-year-old Jordan strode to the mound, flipped her blond curls to answer the question: Who caught the last out of the 2002 World Series? After a whisper prompt in the ear from Scioscia, she replied "Darin Erstad" and received her prize.
But the overall message of the morning was baseball is a game of building character.
"Make the atmosphere something that the kids will cherish the rest of their lives," Scioscia said "Make them love the game of baseball and stay out of the way."
Mike Scarr is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.Less