CORONA, N.Y. — No one knows for sure where the New York Mets’ organization might be several years or even decades from now. But hundreds of young baseball players with their sights set on becoming major leaguers — and even future Mets — are already honing their skills at Junior Mets clinics, supported by WellCare of New York, a subsidiary of the Tampa-based WellCare Health Plans.
The clinics, held for boys and girls ranging from the ages of 7 to 14, is run by Mets players and coaches under the close direction of Donovan Mitchell, the Mets’ Director of Player Relations and Community Outreach.
WellCare’s involvement began this year, with the first two clinics taking place on April 30 and July 29 at Citi Field. The third was held on August 27, just steps from the Grand Central Parkway and the No. 7 train line, in the shadow of Citi Field, at Hinton Park in Corona, Queens, with the fourth and final clinic of the season returning to Hinton Park on Saturday, hours before the second game of a crucial 10-game homestand – the Mets’ final one as the cling to the second wild-card spot in the National League. That clinic featured three Mets, outfielders Brandon Nimmo and Ty Kelly and relief pitcher Erik Goeddel.
On a warm, sundrenched early afternoon, the youngsters (who play on little league teams from across New York City’s five boroughs) worked with each of those Mets — and Mitchell — rotating through four different stations, two for hitting and one each for pitching and fielding, after doing some collective warm-up exercises.
Mitchell explained, “Our goal this year was to try to involve the community in baseball events and kids’ little leagues, AAU teams and Babe Ruth leagues to come out, experience some time with our players, and get to learn a little bit about of the game of baseball and what [our Mets players] have to do in order to play in the big leagues.”
While that was the primary aim, the memories and the impact can last a lifetime.
“A lot of [major league] players remember when they were kids and they remember having clinics like these or they remember wanting to have a clinic like this,” Mitchell added. “So whenever they get a chance to give their knowledge of how to play the game the right way, they usually gravitate towards it and they do a great job.”
Nimmo, a fan favorite for his always joyous, appreciative approach to the game, echoed Mitchell’s sentiments with regard to the long-lasting, positive effects the clinics can have.
“It’s great to be able to come out and help these kids and just try and give back a little bit,” he said. ‘I know that a lot of big league players were very influential in my growing up, and so any way that we can give back and help in that way, I’m definitely willing to come and be out in the sun and just enjoy this time with the kids.”
Not all of the Mets, Mitchell said, are as naturally comfortable with the role of teaching the game to aspiring major leaguers, but they all eventually warm up to the idea.
“Some of them are a little bit shy as far as how they teach,” Mitchell divulged. “But once they get going, you can see the energy in Brandon and Ty, and Erik, and even when we have [Mets infielder] Wilmer [Flores] out here, and some of the other guys, they start to get going, and the kids keep ‘em going — so it becomes a fun thing for them as well.”
As for the kids who take part, simply getting on the field is fun in itself. Yet to do so while learning from the players they root for, along with meeting the Mets’ longtime, famous mascot, adds a lot to the thrill of their experience.
“They seem like they just enjoy being on the field with their brothers and sisters, and their teammates, and to add a few Mets players and Mr. Met, it’s just a bonus,” Mitchell described.
“I think it’s just a day of play for the kids, a good hour [to an] hour and fifteen minutes where they can get the blood circulating and running around a little bit, and [to] throw some baseball in there, I think they really enjoy it.”
However, it’s not all fun and games. There is, of course, work to do, skills to learn and improvement to be measured, all of which are the things that drives Mitchell the most.
“This is always exciting for me,” he said. “I love seeing the smiles on the kids’ faces and seeing them with their bats in their hands, but it’s the joy of seeing them doing something right and that smile of, ‘Hey, Coach told me how to do it and I did it right,’ and it feels like success for them.
“This game is tough enough but when [that] puts a smile on their faces, and they realize, ‘Hey, I’m doing it the right way, and I’m being taught by the pros,’ it’s big for me. It makes me feel good.”
So far, Mitchell and the Mets are doing it the right way as well, with a great program that closely unites their own team with the communities that support it.