Garrett Morrow pauses for a moment, during Tuesday’s Grain Valley High School baseball practice, and lets out a laugh.
The senior pitcher was just asked about the annual Grain Valley Youth Baseball Clinic, and it brought back memories of his days participating in the clinic when he was a third grader.
“Oh, the glory days,” chuckled Morrow, who is expected to be a standout on the mound this season for the Eagles. “My first clinic was in the third grade, and it was indoors because of the weather and we used rubber baseballs.
“I remember every time I tried to throw one of those balls, I just spiked it into the ground because I couldn’t get a grip on it. But I remember how much I looked forward to those clinics. I’d ask my mom to keep looking for an announcement. I had so much energy back then and had so much fun.
“In fact, I brought all my Elks little league team to one of them. We all looked up to the players and thought we were a big deal because we were out practicing with them.”
The clinic was the brainchild of former Eagles baseball coach Mark Lyford, who is now the middle school district activities director.
“I don’t know how long Mark ran the clinic,” Eagles coach Brian Driskell said, “but I know that 13 of our juniors and seniors participated in it just about every year they were in third grade through eighth grade.”
The amount of young participants has varied over the years, but Driskell said 70 children took part in this year’s clinic.
“That sounds like a lot,” Driskell said, “but we had 18 players working the clinic and that worked out to about five young players working with our players at each station – and they got in a lot of work. It was a great experience for our staff, our players and our participants.”
Senior baseball player Tate Collum has fond memories of his days at the clinic.
“Third grade, I couldn’t wait to go to the clinic,” said Collum, a three-sport standout at Grain Valley, who also starred in football and basketball. “Now that I’m one of the high school players working with the kids, it gives me a new perspective on how we can be role models and really influence kids.
“I don’t remember any of the guys on the team who had an impact on me, I just remember that they were bigger than me and better than me and so nice. Those are some of my best childhood memories.”
Crichton Hill, who grew up in Oak Grove and did not attend the clinics as a grade schooler, said he has enjoyed coaching at the clinics the past four years as a member of the Eagles baseball team.
“It’s honestly indescribable how special it is to work the clinics,” said Hill, the Eagles’ starting catcher who bonded with one young catcher at the clinic. “One kid, I’d say he was in seventh or eighth grade, asked me some great questions.
“And after the clinic, he came back up to me and asked me some more questions. That really made an impact on me. He really wanted to be there and he really wanted to learn about his position. I’ll never forget that.”
One of the most active participants at the clinic, which included third graders through eighth graders, was Driskell’s 7-year-old son, Noah, a first grader who ran the show.
“He thought he was one of the big guys,” Brian Driskell said, smiling. “You know, such a small majority of these guys are ever going to play baseball after high school or college, and I think it’s important to teach them about being a good citizen, a good role model, a good parent.
“I love it when I see my guys succeed out on the field, but I’m even prouder when I see the way they interact with young kids at a clinic like this. They are learning life lessons, and they might not even realize it.
“After Noah got done with the clinic, he was so fired up. He might not know the guys by their names, but he knows them by their numbers and he’s telling me number so and so did this, and number so and so taught him that. They made a real impact on his life – and the lives of a lot of other kids.
“And to me, that’s what teaching and coaching is all about.”