KANSAS CITY, Kan. -- Frank White said he saw himself in many of the kids attending a free clinic Saturday that featured White and several other former Major Leaguers as instructors.
The kids and MLB alumni were brought together at George and Doris Haley Field through MLB's Reviving Baseball in Inner Cities (RBI) and the Major League Baseball Players Alumni Association's (MLBPAA) Legends for Youth clinic program. White grew up not far from the state line in Missouri, joining the Royals as an undrafted player and working his way up to one of the best players in club history.
"I can only wish I had a field like this when I played," White said. "Any time you can give back to kids in a positive way, I think that's the most important thing. I started, like a lot of these kids, in Kansas City. Signed through a tryout camp. I know how hard it is, to get into high school baseball, to get into really good youth baseball leagues when your fundamentals aren't together. I'm all about teaching fundamentals. If you get those down, then you have a good chance to get where you need to go."
White's instructor colleagues included Bob Dernier, Ed Hearn, John Mayberry and Tom Burgmeier, who had the kids work on fundamentals on all aspects of the game.
The kids at White's station were too young, at ages 7-12, to remember him with the Royals in the 1970s and '80s when he won eight Gold Gloves at second base and hit cleanup in the World Series.
"Life is earned," White said. "Everything you get is earned with hard work. That's where it all starts, down here, with the fundamentals. And when they get it, they have a better chance of making their high school team, making their college team and, hopefully, get to the pros. The key is not to get to the pros, but to take each step at a time and make the good teams in Little League and go from there. If your fundamentals are good, it's going to help you a lot."
Nolan Howard, 9, of Gardner, Kan., came to the clinic with his parents.
"Hopefully, he listens, and he learns something from these people who played professionally," said Angela Howard, Nolan's mom.
Others, such as 7-year-old Xaviar Devine, came in groups from teams that play their games on Haley Field. His dad, Rich Devine, played baseball professionally in the early 2000s.
"For my kid, I just want to make sure he gets a great baseball experience, and this field provides that," Devine said. "We've had some great experiences here, where the kids have met former Major Leaguers. Having these guys come out makes it all a little more real for the kids."
Cle Ross, the executive director of Kansas RBI, grew up in the area and attended Kansas City Kansas Community College before playing pro ball. In 2008, Ross said he bought the land for Haley Field, which has been a local site for community baseball for years. Former Major Leaguers David Segui, Diego Segui, Neil Allen and Steve Renko are among those who have played here, he said. The area was abandoned in 1995 and the land had been overgrown by weeds. Since the $1.4 million renovation, Ross said crime has decreased in the area with baseball filling a void.
"It has changed the demographic of baseball in Wyandotte County," Ross said. "But it's literally changed how the parents see what's going on. A lot of the people who live in the area used to play here, and now they want their kids and grandkids to play here -- to play where they used to play. We're a diamond in the rough. We're in the middle of a crime-infested neighborhood, but we're changing the community. Crime in this area has dropped dramatically since we started offering baseball to kids, young men and women, again.
"We provide some hope in an otherwise hopeless area."
Ross' Little League has served anywhere from 300 to 1,000 kids a year since it started.
"We get kids from all walks of life," Ross said. "We get kids who are really competitive and ready to learn at a high level, and we also have those kids who never played before. We have several kids who've hardly ever put a glove on before. If you can create an environment like that, it's awesome, where there's something for everybody. We keep them engaged."This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.