Former MLB Players Lend Knowledge For Clinic At Urban Youth Academy

By Ben Platt
Updated: December 18, 2006

COMPTON, Calif. — Saturdays are always busy days at the Urban Youth Academy. Whether it’s a hot day in July or a cold one in December, there is always time for instruction.

On this day, more than 30 young players turned out for a clinic hosted by former Major League players Jim Lefebvre, Don Slaught and Rod Carew, who, along with some of the academy’s coaches, put the players through their paces with a number of drills.

“I’m really impressed with this facility,” said Lefebvre, a Southern California native and former National League Rookie of the Year in 1965 for the Los Angeles Dodgers, who had never seen the academy before. “I’m really impressed with what Major League Baseball has done in the way they built it. This is a big-league facility and first class all the way.

“Compton was one of the great hotbeds of baseball at one time, with guys like Reggie Smith, Bob Watson and Bobby Tolan. With this facility, I’m sure they are going to start bringing back the athletes. MLB has stepped up to the plate and done a great job, and I can’t wait to look out on these fields soon and see some great players come off these fields.”

Lefebvre got right down to business running the players through the same drills he used when he managed the Seattle Mariners and Milwaukee Brewers, and currently uses as the coach of the Chinese national team that took part in this year’s World Baseball Classic.

“You go to places like China, they are still very crude when it comes to their fields,” said Lefebvre, who will be returning to the country in January as the national team begins its preparations to qualify for the 2008 Olympics. “The fields are not nearly as nice even in Japan, where they play a lot of baseball”.

“You have to have a facility where kids are really proud to walk on, and that was the goal of [former MLB executive and current Padres CEO] Sandy Alderson, [MLB executive vice president of baseball operations] Jimmie Lee Solomon and everyone from MLB — to come out here and build a state-of-the-art facility in an area that was really prominent, and they achieved that.”

Another newcomer to the academy is Slaught, a former player who helped the Detroit Tigers make it to the World Series this year as the team’s hitting coach. Slaught, who lives just down the freeway in Torrance, Calif., came by to see his old friend and former coach, Carew, and ended up working with the young hitters during the clinic.

“It’s an incredible facility and a great opportunity for these players to come out,” said Slaught. “This is a Major League training facility. This is really nice, and I hope the kids take advantage of it and use the expertise of guys like Rod Carew and Jim Lefebvre being out here. I really didn’t know this place existed, and I’m going to get the word out about it. I’m only 20 minutes from here, so I’ll be coming out here more to help out.”

Those are the kind of words that are music to the ears of Carew, the Hall of Famer, who first came to the academy in September and has been a frequent visitor since.

“I try to come here every weekend,” said Carew, who lives in Orange County. “I get here around 8:30 in the morning and leave when the games start, just working with the kids down in the batting cages.”

Carew, who, like Lefebvre, does a lot of international instruction for Major League Baseball, is pleased to see more former players like Slaught and Lefebvre take the time to help the kids who really want to learn how to play the game the right way.

“Hopefully we can get more former players here working with these kids,” said the seven-time American League batting champion. “Even if they can just come and spend an our or two on the weekends passing on their knowledge to these kids, which is what we’re all trying to do, and hopefully get some of these kids off on the right foot, and who knows”?

“Maybe one day we will find some of these kids going off to college, playing college ball and playing in the big leagues.

“Former players have been through it, they’ve experienced it, and they know what they need to use to teach it, and hopefully their experiences can be imparted on these kids. It’s a good game, but it’s a thinking man’s game, and you have to do certain things to be successful on the baseball field.”

So with the bricks and mortar provided by Major League Baseball, coupled with knowledgeable coaches on staff and the infusion of experienced Major League players like Carew, Slaught and Lefebvre, a lot of young players are getting a baseball education that few could have even dreamed of less than a year ago.