Blue Wahoos Dazzle Hundreds Of Kids At Chevy Baseball Clinic

Youth players coached, inspired by meeting Blue Wahoos players

Basil Bethea (back turned) waits to meet Blue Wahoos star Travis Blankenhorn at the Chevrolet Youth Baseball Clinic at Blue Wahoos Stadium. (Bill Vilona)

By Bill Vilona, Senior Writer / Pensacola Blue Wahoos | June 16, 2019 9:26 AM

Basil Bethea had his baseball bat tucked inside a backpack full of other gear when gathering more indelible memories.

The 13-year-old, three-position player for the Olive Baptist Braves was among hundreds of area kids who became part of this weekend's Chevrolet Youth Baseball Clinic at Blue Wahoos Stadium.

Two days, three sessions, free instruction by professional players with the Pensacola Blue Wahoos. Free lunch. And then… getting their autograph.

Can it get any better than this?

"It really makes me feel better, because you are like, man, these guys really want to help out with the community and they're cool with us," said Bethea, who has been playing youth baseball since he was a 3-year-old toddler and could hit a ball off a tee.

"It was so awesome, especially since these guys are obviously older and have more experience than us and it helps us get better with our pitching and hitting," said Bethea, who has attended Blue Wahoos games with his family.

That's one of the missions and values from the national Chevrolet initiative to hold clinics across the nation. The Blue Wahoos have hosted this two-day event of two-hour clinics since their inaugural 2012 season.

In 2018, more than 1,100 Chevrolet dealers participated in the nationwide project. This is the 14th year of the initiative to help grow the game.

More than 350 area kids, including special needs players from the Miracle League of Northeast Pensacola, which had its own clinic Saturday morning at the stadium, were part of the two-day event. In addition to the instruction, the kids were all treated to lunch.

"It is a good turnout, parents love it, kids love it, and it's free…. that's the best part about it," said Gary DeStefano, the marketing manager for Pete Moore Chevrolet on Warrington Road, which has been involved since the first one at Blue Wahoos Stadium.

"Since Chevrolet began this in 2006, nationally we've had more than seven million participants," said DeStefano, who always handles marketing for the entire Gulf Coast Chevy Dealers Association, which comes together to help make the Pensacola stop happen.

"So it has really been a great event across the country for Chevrolet and it brings the kids, the parents to a professional ballpark to be with professional players."

Both Friday and Saturday morning, less than 10 hours after the players left the stadium from playing extra-inning games against the Tennessee Smokies, a group of Blue Wahoos players each day helped instruct and inspire the next generation of potential baseball players.

"Every time it's possible, I will do it," said Blue Wahoos' versatile infielder-outfielder Taylor Grzelakowski. "I went to camps myself, but never with pro players (instructing). One time in college, I got to help with a camp and there were pro players there, but that's as close as I got to something like this.

"It's cool that some of these kids even have Pensacola shirts on, too. I am looking at them and saying to myself, 'Wow they are invested. They are coming to our games all the time. This is also the video generation of kids, so just to get kids outside and running around it's a blast and it needs to happen more often."

About 25 kids from the Miracle League of Pensacola participated Saturday with Blue Wahoos catcher Brian Navarreto and pitchers Randy Dobnak and Andrew Vizcaya working with him, as well as staying for the larger area youth clinic that followed an hour later Saturday.

After working both clinics in the mid-day sun, Navaretto was the Blue Wahoos catcher the entire game Saturday night against the Tennessee Smokies.

 "I love it," said Navaretto, a Puerto Rico native, who can speak fluent English and Spanish. "Seeing them smile, having fun. That's what this is all about. It's beautiful."

Dan Siemski sat in the stands along the third base line, watching his 7-year-old son, Anthony, attired in a NY Yankees style uniform as member of the Pace Para Youth Sports Yankees, gain tips from pitcher Randy Dobnak.

"He loves baseball," Dan said, while sporting a Michigan Wolverines shirt, his alma mater, to support their College World Series appearance. "I think it's exciting, because the kids watch them on TV or they come to games, but they don't get a chance to interact with them.

"But to see.. first hand, the players interact with them, that's huge for these kids."

The event was another way the Blue Wahoos are able to give back to the community with an event that would not be possible without the stadium, the team and connection to Major League Baseball.

"It's neat to see all this," said Dobnak, who pitched earlier this week, producing his longest start. "I love working with kids. You're helping them and it's fun be part of."

 

 

 

 

Basil Bethea had his baseball bat tucked inside a backpack full of other gear when gathering more indelible memories.

The 13-year-old, three-position player for the Olive Baptist Braves was among hundreds of area kids who became part of this weekend's Chevrolet Youth Baseball Clinic at Blue Wahoos Stadium.

Two days, three sessions, free instruction by professional players with the Pensacola Blue Wahoos. Free lunch. And then… getting their autograph.

Can it get any better than this?

"It really makes me feel better, because you are like, man, these guys really want to help out with the community and they're cool with us," said Bethea, who has been playing youth baseball since he was a 3-year-old toddler and could hit a ball off a tee.

"It was so awesome, especially since these guys are obviously older and have more experience than us and it helps us get better with our pitching and hitting," said Bethea, who has attended Blue Wahoos games with his family.

That's one of the missions and values from the national Chevrolet initiative to hold clinics across the nation. The Blue Wahoos have hosted this two-day event of two-hour clinics since their inaugural 2012 season.

In 2018, more than 1,100 Chevrolet dealers participated in the nationwide project. This is the 14th year of the initiative to help grow the game.

More than 350 area kids, including special needs players from the Miracle League of Northeast Pensacola, which had its own clinic Saturday morning at the stadium, were part of the two-day event. In addition to the instruction, the kids were all treated to lunch.

"It is a good turnout, parents love it, kids love it, and it's free…. that's the best part about it," said Gary DeStefano, the marketing manager for Pete Moore Chevrolet on Warrington Road, which has been involved since the first one at Blue Wahoos Stadium.

"Since Chevrolet began this in 2006, nationally we've had more than seven million participants," said DeStefano, who always handles marketing for the entire Gulf Coast Chevy Dealers Association, which comes together to help make the Pensacola stop happen.

"So it has really been a great event across the country for Chevrolet and it brings the kids, the parents to a professional ballpark to be with professional players."

Both Friday and Saturday morning, less than 10 hours after the players left the stadium from playing extra-inning games against the Tennessee Smokies, a group of Blue Wahoos players each day helped instruct and inspire the next generation of potential baseball players.

"Every time it's possible, I will do it," said Blue Wahoos' versatile infielder-outfielder Taylor Grzelakowski. "I went to camps myself, but never with pro players (instructing). One time in college, I got to help with a camp and there were pro players there, but that's as close as I got to something like this.

"It's cool that some of these kids even have Pensacola shirts on, too. I am looking at them and saying to myself, 'Wow they are invested. They are coming to our games all the time. This is also the video generation of kids, so just to get kids outside and running around it's a blast and it needs to happen more often."

About 25 kids from the Miracle League of Pensacola participated Saturday with Blue Wahoos catcher Brian Navarreto and pitchers Randy Dobnak and Andrew Vizcaya working with him, as well as staying for the larger area youth clinic that followed an hour later Saturday.

After working both clinics in the mid-day sun, Navaretto was the Blue Wahoos catcher the entire game Saturday night against the Tennessee Smokies.

 "I love it," said Navaretto, a Puerto Rico native, who can speak fluent English and Spanish. "Seeing them smile, having fun. That's what this is all about. It's beautiful."

Dan Siemski sat in the stands along the third base line, watching his 7-year-old son, Anthony, attired in a NY Yankees style uniform as member of the Pace Para Youth Sports Yankees, gain tips from pitcher Randy Dobnak.

"He loves baseball," Dan said, while sporting a Michigan Wolverines shirt, his alma mater, to support their College World Series appearance. "I think it's exciting, because the kids watch them on TV or they come to games, but they don't get a chance to interact with them.

"But to see.. first hand, the players interact with them, that's huge for these kids."

The event was another way the Blue Wahoos are able to give back to the community with an event that would not be possible without the stadium, the team and connection to Major League Baseball.

"It's neat to see all this," said Dobnak, who pitched earlier this week, producing his longest start. "I love working with kids. You're helping them and it's fun be part of."

 

 

 

 

 

This story was not subject to the approval of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues or its clubs.

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