Need some baseball advice? Complete baseball advice from a complete player?
How about a former MVP and nine-time Rawlings Gold Glove Award winner?
Luckily, the man for that advice is in our own backyard — Dodger hitting coach Don Mattingly.
The six-time All-Star gave a group of kids some of that all-world advice at Camelback Ranch — Glendale in March.
Read closely, he knows his stuff.
Want to hit with power? It’s not a decision, it’s a result.
“I like taking the approach that I’m almost chopping a tree down. I’m going to pick my hands up and swing down into that tree,” said Mattingly. “Now I’m level into the strike zone. When you hit the ball, it ends up creating backspin and the ball carries.”
How about getting to a ground ball?
“You don’t necessarily have to be fast to cover a lot of ground. It’s that first step again,” he said. “I want to be on the move. It’s momentum. I want to be in an athletic position and an explosive position and it can happen any pitch.”
And if you want to get noticed as a baseball player? It starts with the basics.
“If they’re solid fundamentally, you can build on those things and we can help this guy become a better player.”
Ever wonder what it’s like to be a batboy for the Los Angeles Dodgers?
Here’s a glimpse, provided by Dodger batboy Javier Herrera.
Laundry, getting razzed by some of the players, setting up the bullpen before the game, setting up the dugout, getting razzed, interacting with the players, warming up the players, setting up the gum, preparing the on-deck circle, getting razzed, grabbing bats and foul balls and finally getting some much-deserved props.
“Best bat boy in the game right here,” Dodger catcher A.J. Ellis said. “This is the guy I go to if I need anything.”
The 23-year-old Herrera has been a batboy for four years.
“When I first started, I was shocked. I was star-struck, amazed,” said Herrera. “I couldn’t believe I was with these Major League players.”
Baseball dreams are the same throughout the world.
So it was a major thrill for a group of Taiwanese Little Leaguers when heroes Hong-Chih Kuo and Chin-Lung Hu conducted a clinic on March 12 in Taiwan on the Dodgers’ recent tour there.
Hu coached the kids on the form you take while fielding ground balls and Kuo gave quiet counsel to some potential pitching stars.
“See those kids. They can throw, huh?” explained Kuo. “When I was young, I could throw like that. That’s why I’m in the Major Leagues.”
Said Hu: “When I was young I saw pro players and they taught me the same thing. Now I have this opportunity, I can teach like those guys.”
And those kids obviously appreciated it, swarming the two Dodgers afterward during a photo shoot.
Christopher Ramirez, a lifelong baseball fan battling cancer, was able to live a dream in March at Camelback Ranch – Glendale during an otherwise normal Spring Training day for the Dodgers.
He got to “try out” for the Dodgers through the Make-A-Wish Foundation.
Christopher fielded ground balls, pitched, took part in outfield drills and batting practice with his heroes Manny Ramirez, Casey Blake and Russell Martin. He did it all while wearing the Dodger uniform with his favorite number 24, which he wore in honor of Manny’s number from his Cleveland and Boston day.
Manny even gave him a bat and Russell gave him brand-new cleats.
And finally, he got to watch a game from the Dodger dugout.
“I will always remember this for the rest of my life,” said Christopher.
Clayton Kershaw is known to Dodger fans as the 21-year-old left-handed wunderkind who burst onto the scene in 2008 in an exhibition game and made his big league debut just two months after his 20th birthday. Now he’s a mainstay on the Dodger starting rotation.
Matthew Stafford is more well-known to football fans, as last year he was the top pick in the NFL draft by the Detroit Lions and was inserted as the startin quarterback shortly thereafter. This on the heels of his being a standout quarterback at the University of Georgia for three years.
But back when they were seven-year-olds playing for the Blue Bombers youth soccer team in the Arlington, Texas suburb of Highland Park, making it to the highest level in two of the most popular sports in the country seemed worlds away. At the time they were just two kids playing together in just about every sport, having the everyday fun that boys do.
To hear their mothers talk, it sounds the same as any friendship that blossoms through sports or school.
“They always wanted to be outside,” said Marianne Kershaw, Clayton’s mother. “But if it was a rainy day, Clayton and Matthew developed this game called Hallway Hockey. They cut off full-size hockey sticks, and they’d put on football helmets. Then they’d put pillows under their shirts and put kneepads on. They’d run tape across doors at either side of the hallway and shoot goals at each other. They’d be goalie of their own door. It was pretty ingenious.”
Margaret Stafford, Matthew’s mother, has some memories of her own.
“They were always goofing around and having fun,” said Margaret Stafford, Matthew’s mother. “When we’d go on road trips with the baseball team we’d go to Wal-Mart and they’d buy costumes and goof around. “You flash back and think about them growing up. I guess we always do that whenever we run into the other kids who were on the team. A lot of them have changed so much from little chubby-faced boys into handsome young men, like Clayton who is tall and thin. He did have a little chubby face back then. Yes, I always think back. It went by so quickly, but you still can remember it like it was yesterday.”
They may have been very much like other boys, but when a ball was in their hands or at their feet there were signs of future talent that was starting to sprout. John Calandro, their youth soccer coach during those days, recalled what would happen during breaks in the action on the soccer field.
“In between soccer games Matthew and Clayton would throw the football around and they had arms stronger than any of the dads,” said Calandro. “Matthew could throw a straight spiral at 7. At 8 or 9 Clayton could throw a curveball. Their unique abilities at those ages were outstanding.”