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Angels ‘Breakthrough’ to urban youth

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by Jonathon Mayo,

For the high schoolers participating in the Breakthrough Series at the Urban Youth Academy this week, the idea of playing professional baseball probably seemed like a pipe dream, at best.

But in one day, the dream may have come into much sharper focus, thanks to the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim.

“Sometimes they need something tangible, something real, to tell them they’re not as far away as they think they are,” Angels outfielder Gary Matthews said after addressing the wide-eyed teens at Angel Stadium on Tuesday prior to the Angels game against the Indians. “Hopefully, I can come across as honest.”

Matthews told the group that “it’s a long road and it’s not going to be easy. It’s about progressing and knowing it’s going to take patience. Never stop believing in your ability, even when you’re failing.”

Matthews wasn’t the only one who visited with the group of teenagers from around the country looking to gain exposure from this first showcase run by Major League Baseball, the MLB Scouting Bureau, USA Baseball and the Atlanta-based organization Mentoring Viable Prospects (MVP). Angels owner Arte Moreno scaled a wall to greet the players up close and personal by the Angels dugout. General manager Tony Reagins also stopped by to say a few words, giving these youngsters some good advice and providing an example of how one could be in baseball and not be a player.

“This is a tremendous opportunity for you,” Reagins said. “Obviously, you have some talent, but you have to take advantage of the opportunity you have. Some of you have good skills. That’s what we’re looking for, good young men with heads on straight. That’s what’s important.”

The experience of the day’s activities was clearly important for the players involved. It began with a clinic at the Youth Academy, as the players got to interact with Angels catcher Ryan Budde and infielder Macier Izturis, as well as former Angels great Bobby Grich, bullpen catcher Steve Soliz and former catcher Ike Hampton. At the same time, there were dozens of younger kids, ages 5 and up, at the clinic to help these teens learn quickly that wherever they are in life, there are others they can help.

“It was an honor [to be a part of the clinic],” said Princeton Jackson, a first baseman from Houston, Texas, who will be a part of the Major League Scouting Bureau team when games commence on Wednesday morning. “With all of those kids around, you could see a lot of yourself in them. They look up to you and that was great.”

Urban Youth Academy director Darrell Miller spends much of his time telling kids who come to the Academy about what it takes to play at the next level. He was quick to point out that he could shout until he’s blue in the face and not have the same impact a big leaguer would when trying to impart wisdom to young players.

“It will be everlasting,” Miller said of the day’s experience. “The credibility from guys doing it today … that’s what we’ve been trying to communicate to Major League Baseball players, that they have to give back to the community. It sounds different coming from them. The [kids] will really listen to guys who are playing.

“Will it make a difference? Absolutely. They’re sponges and they soak up everything. The Angels are making a big difference to them.”

“I think it’s huge,” Budde said of the clinic and the Breakthrough Series in general. “If I didn’t have the summer camps and things like that I went to, to have the opportunity to come here and do this would be great. I’m from Oklahoma and there’s no Major League team there, so those kinds of things were important. [It’s great] to be a part of it. The kids really took in everything we had to say.”

That might seem like something easy for the powers that be to say, but something that would ring hollow when it came to the actual impact it had on the Series attendees. After all, today’s teenagers are notorious for short attention spans and lack of respect for their elders, right?

One look into the earnest eyes of everyone in attendance at Angel Stadium, however, would make even the greatest cynic throw that theory out of the window.

“It’s a dream,” Jackson said. “It feels like it’s not even really happening. It makes you strive even harder to get to this place. To see my teammates and their eyes lighting up, it’s amazing.

“I’ll remember the first day and what the Breakthrough Series did for me forever. It’s a life-changing thing.”


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