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Youth baseball players learn from the pros in Sycamore

Published: Saturday, July 19, 2014 6:16 p.m. CST • Updated: Monday, July 21, 2014 8:28 a.m. CST
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Danielle Guerra - dguerra@shawmedia.com Former Cubs pitcher Carmen Pignatiello shows a group of six-year-olds how to grip a baseball during a clinic on Saturday, July 19, 2014 at Sycamore Park. The clinic was put on by more than a dozen players from the Major League Baseball Players Alumni and sponsered by Hanover Insurance and Crum-Halsted Insurance Agency in Sycamore. About 256 kids ages 6-16 participated in the free baseball clinic.

SYCAMORE – Chances are, most of the kids in attendance at Sycamore Park Saturday afternoon weren't too familiar with any of the former Major League Baseball players at the "Legends for Youth" clinic at Sycamore Park.

That didn't stop around 250 kids from participating, or waiting in a long line for autographs after the event from former Major Leaguers such as George Foster, the 1977 National League MVP and two-time World Series champion with the Big Red Machine, and Ron Kittle, who won the 1983 American League Rookie of the Year with the White Sox.

In total, over 10 former players were on hand. Others included former Cubs outfielder Gene Hiser, Bill Campbell, who pitched in the majors for 14 seasons, and Carmen Pignatiello, who pitched for the Cubs in 2007 and 2008.

Jackson Mertz, who will be a freshman at DeKalb High School in the fall, wasn't too familiar with any of the names other than Foster, but that didn't stop him from having a good time learning the different aspects of baseball from the crew.

"My dad signed me up for it, and it was pretty fun," Mertz said. "Just meeting all the players that played in the major leagues."

Crum-Halsted Insurance Agency, based out of Sycamore, partnered with Hanover Insurance Group and the MLB Alumni Association to bring the event, which was completely free, to Sycamore.

Kittle, who lives in suburban Mokena, said clinics like Saturday's are a great way to show the kids how to be involved and give back something to the community.

"It's good interaction," Kittle said. "The kids are very polite. You expect them to say please and thank you, and they do."

During the clinic, which hosted kids from ages 6-16, the MLB alumni went over the aspects of hitting, fielding and baserunning with the participants.

"We try to, in our talk, to answer as many questions that we think that they would have, but mainly let them know the things that they need to do if they want to get better in the game of baseball," Foster said.

For the players who have crossed paths with each other at one point or another during their careers or retirement, it's also a homecoming of sorts.

"It's nice to come out here and reconnect with some of your former teammates, players you played against," Kittle said. "But it's also fun to go out there and share some time with the kids."

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