Cooper Vest (left) and Scott Bandura (right) go over an outfield drill with Mamie Johnson Little League members.
By Chris Hirons
WASHINGTON — On a neighborhood baseball field, where more grass than dirt covered the infield, behind Kimball Elementary School in Southeast Washington, D.C., a young player ran out to center field to meet up with his teammates and to take part in a drill conducted by two DC Grays outfielders.
“What’s your name,” the player asked in a high-pitched tone.
“I’m Cooper. My friend Scottie and I are here to teach you to become a better baseball player,” the former No. 1 outfield recruit in Utah responded. The player looked down and then back up at the Grays’ outfielder. At last, he shrugged and took a knee in the freshly-cut outfield grass, ready to listen to what Cooper Vest (BYU), one of the Grays’ best pitchers, and Scott Bandura (Princeton), arguably the Grays’ best hitter, had to say next.
The same question was repeated more than a handful of times at the four different stations during the DC Grays clinic with young baseball players that belong to the Mamie Johnson Little League, a youth baseball organization that serves families in Ward 7, where Division 1 baseball players Kyle Chmielewski (Lafayette), Evan Smith (West Virginia), Joey Craska (New Jersey Institute of Technology), Frank Craska (Lafayette) and Teddy Blumenauer (Towson) and softball player Mo’ne Davis (Hampton), worked with its young players to improve their skills.
“[My favorite part] had to be learning about all the different skill levels, as well as approaches to life, not even just baseball,” Vest said. “I’m from [Utah], and coming [to D.C.], I love it. I absolutely loved seeing the pure smiles on these kids' faces.”
Most of the players wore the jerseys and hats given out by the Mamie Johnson Little League — mainly Washington Nationals-related gear. Mamie Johnson Little League is a strong supporter of DC Grays RBI - the MLB RBI (Reviving Baseball in Inner Cities) program, run by the DC Grays in Washington, DC. The Grays are the only summer college baseball team in the US that also runs an RBI chapter for MLB. The Grays have run Washington D.C.’s RBI program since they partnered with Major League Baseball in 2016 and offer the most economically disadvantaged kids with the chance to play baseball for free. Many Mamie Johnson LL kids participate in the DC Grays RBI Junior Travel Baseball and Junior Softball programs in the summer and fall.
Chmielewski and Smith ran through a few different infield drills with the players. Davis, who plays second base for the softball team at Hampton University, and Joey Craska taught hitting lessons. Blumenauer and the elder Craska worked with the pitchers behind the first base dugout. And Vest and Bandura were, of course, beyond second base and in the outfield grass, helping out with the outfielders and cracking jokes with the kids.
"The clinic was great," said Keith Barnes, the founder and President of Mamie Johnson Little League (and also a coach with DC Grays RBI). "The Grays players were great, and our kids really got a lot out of it. This is just another example of the terrific partnership between our league and the Grays."
The clinic took place at Jackie Robinson Field, where the Grays and Mamie Johnson are working with the DC Department of Parks and Rec on a plan for several new upgrades to both the baseball and softball fields. A Memorandum of Agreement is being drafted between DC Grays Baseball and DPR which will initiate a series of improvements to the fields - including new dugouts, new bullpens, the installation of stands and scoreboards at both fields.
For more information on the DC Grays RBI initiative click here.
Evan Smith (left, West Virginia) and Kyle Chmielewski (right, Lafayette) explain an infield drill.
Kyle Chmielewski (Lafayette) demonstrates a ground ball drill.
The DC Grays and members of the Mamie Johnson Little League post for a group photo.
Joey Craska (New Jersey Institute of Technology) works with a player on his batting skills.
Mo'ne Davis (Hampton) teaches a player the correct way to hold a baseball bat.
Teddy Blumenauer (Towson) awaits a pitch from a Mamie Johnson Little League player as Frank Craska (far right) teaches the player to come set.
Scott Bandura (Princeton) poses for a photo with two Mamie Johnson Little League players.