Baseball pros teach young sluggers

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ST. CROIX - The admiration between the instructors and the students was mutual at Ballers in the V.I. The nine professional baseball players at D.C. Canegata Ballpark showed as much excitement as St. Croix's youth Sunday.

St. Thomas native Jabari Blash, 23, a minor league player with the Seattle Mariners, hosted a clinic on his home island Saturday to open a weekend event he plans to hold every year.

As players cycled through stations on pitching, fielding grounders and locating fly balls, the professionals were impressed by the crop of Crucian talent.

They liked Miguel Thomas, an 8-year-old on the Little League Yankees who was quick to field anything thrown his way. Standing at slightly more than 4 feet, the pint-sized boy was the shortest participant at the clinic, but he quickly proved to be one of the craftiest and most attentive. Thomas was one of about 45 players from elementary to high school age who attended the event.

"A lot of kids came out. That's always great," said Blash, a Charlotte Amalie High School graduate. "Parents came out to support, the kids are interactive, they're asking questions, they're very interested and we're having a good time."

Desi Relaford, 39, was the oldest of the nine players. Relaford is retired but played 11 seasons in Major League Baseball and joined the other eight players, all in their 20s. Atlanta Braves prospect Mycal Jones, a former roommate of Blash, asked Relaford to join.Relaford said he travels regularly for similar clinics and hosts his own camps, but was impressed nonetheless with the talent in the territory.

"It's about them and we can tell there's kids that want to be here," he said. "Obviously, there's talent. There's kids out here that have some skills and it's really refreshing to see kids that are just chompin' at the bit, wanting to get on the field and wanting to play."

Educational Complex junior pitcher Stephan Walwyn followed closely as the professional players demonstrated proper technique and fundamentals. Walwyn hopes to earn a scholarship to play baseball and eventually sign with a professional organization. The 17-year-old was impressed with the professionals' willingness to visit St. Croix.

"They have really good charisma and ways of teaching us how to play the ballgame," Walwyn said. "They're really teaching us some valuable stuff that can help us in the long run. ... It shows courage, character the way they've gone away, come back and helping the youths."

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