There was no Tomahawk Chop chant, no roar from a large crowd in appreciation of a home run or a string of strikeouts.
Instead, broad smiles and high fives from a group of 8- and 9-year-olds was all the motivation a group of Atlanta Braves players needed. Pitchers Jonny Venters and Craig Kimbrel, and third baseman Brooks Conrad helped out June 21 in a free skills clinic for 104 Boys and Girls Club members at the Samuel L. Jones Boys and Girls Club in Decatur.
“Personally, it’s just fun,” Conrad said of the Junior Braves/RBI Youth Baseball League event. “I have kids of my own and I went to camps when I was little. I have a lot of good memories and hope we can give that to these kids. Whatever they get out of it is great. I can teach them about what I know and if they learn one thing from this, that’s what it’s all about.”
Conrad helped out on a hitting drill, while Venters gave pitching tips and Kimbrel assisted in fielding drills. Most of the campers had never played organized baseball, but being around the big leaguers was a special treat. Venters watched as eyes widened when he answered the question “How hard can we throw?” with “As hard as you can; let it rip.”
In addition to helping with baseball skills, the Braves threesome also spoke to the campers about the importance of teamwork, leadership and respect.
Kimbrel, a 23-year-old reliever in his second season with the Braves, said he enjoyed his first time helping out with a camp. Kimbrel could relate to the group, having grown up in Huntsville, Ala., a Braves fan.
“I like to interact with the kids,” he said. “When I was younger if I had a chance to have a Braves player teach me something, I’d be there. Now that I’m playing for the Braves and have seen what the organization is made of, I’m just happy to be a part of such a high-class organization. It’s just fun to be able to help out with something like this.”
Eric Osborne, the health and fitness coordinator for 25 Boys and Girls Clubs in Georgia, estimated that 85 percent of the campers in attendance had never played organized ball before.
“Most of our kids are pretty priced out of playing in a league,” Osborne said. “Either the travel demands on the parents are too much or it’s too expensive. We encourage the kids to get involved and play as much ball as they can. Our hope is that they can get some confidence and skills, and want to play more. If not, it’s a fun summer.”