Promoting Baseball in Chattanooga, Clinic brings legends to life

Nooga.com
October 24, 2011
by Ray Deering

It was as idyllic a scene as one could imagine. The stately McCallie School campus formed a picturesque background Sunday as over 200 energetic, baseball-loving kids rotated through drills conducted by current and former professional players on the school’s sun-splashed playing fields under a cloudless azure sky.

It was the third annual “Legends of the Game” baseball clinic, and the sponsoring Engel Foundation could not have picked a more stunning autumn afternoon to host boys and girls eager to learn. Pros like Rick Honeycutt, pitching coach for the Los Angeles Dodgers; Dave Bristol, former manager of five major league teams; Clay Parker, a retired pitcher for the Seattle Mariners and New York Yankees; and Tim Costo, who played for the Cincinnati Reds served as the professors.

In addition, there were nine other coaches with professional baseball experience and 10 coaches with college, high school or Dizzy Dean experience. Honeycutt served as the host for the clinic with assistance from Randy Brown, president of the Chattanooga YMCA, and a former player in the San Diego Padres system.

Co-sponsoring the event were Chattanooga Parks and Recreation, YMCA, Chattanooga Lookouts, Dizzy Dean Baseball, McCallie School and several corporate sponsors.

Many of the participants were from the Reviving Baseball in the Inner City (RBI) program, initiated two years ago through a partnership between the Engel Foundation and Chattanooga Parks and Recreation Department. The RBI program is an outreach of Major League Baseball, which has given over $30 million to the program since 1991.

Brown, who coaches a team in the RBI league, has been amazed at the steady growth in the program.

“This past summer we had close to 300 kids and 19 teams in our baseball program and several teams in softball,” Brown said. “The whole idea of RBI is to rejuvenate the love for baseball in the inner city. We played two games a week at Warner Park and East Lake.”

Lady Walker, a member of the Engel Foundation’s board of directors, served as the volunteer coordinator for the clinic. Most of the details of registration, volunteer recruitment and refreshments fell to her. As she surveyed the scene Sunday afternoon, she was obviously weary from her daunting task but ecstatic over the success of the venture.

“All these coaches and kids seem to be having a great time,” she said. “We do it for these kids. We want to see them stay in baseball. Baseball is good for Chattanooga and for the kids. Most of these kids in RBI would never have the opportunity to play baseball if not for that program. They don’t have proximity to fields, and the cost of uniforms and travel would be prohibitive. This way they have dedicated coaches and the Parks and Recreation Department as well as the Engel Foundation behind them.

“Basically what we are hoping to do is to bring Chattanooga baseball back to where it was when Joe Engel was here. His Knothole Gang was very important to him, so we are trying to integrate kids who might be in Little League, Dizzy Dean and the RBI League. We have kids from Pikeville, Jasper, Cleveland, Sand Mountain, and all around. The clinic is free and open to all kids in the area.”

Bristol, now 78, spent 12 seasons as a major league manager in Cincinnati, Milwaukee, Montreal, Atlanta and San Francisco. The 1951 Baylor School alumnus still does several clinics each year at the high school and college levels.

“I do them because when I was a kid in western North Carolina, older people helped me and I just want to give a little back,” he said. “Rick Honeycutt is a great friend of mine and has been for years. During the season we talk once or twice a week.”

Walker is optimistic about the future of the clinic.

“Rick has already indicated that he is eager to come back and do the clinic again in conjunction with his golf tournament,” she said. “Coach (Chris) Richardson at McCallie has been a wonderful host to us. Eventually we would love to have the clinic back at Engel Stadium. That would be our dream. If we get enough community support, we could theoretically have it there this time next year.”

From the sparkle in the eyes of the kids at McCallie on Sunday afternoon, no doubt many will be back next year, no matter where the clinic is held.

Article courtesy of Nooga.com: http://www.nooga.com/21200_promoting-baseball-in-chattanooga-clinic-brings-legends-to-life/

Engel Foundation in the News