The goal for Nike N7 ambassador and professional baseball player Jacoby Ellsbury at his second annual baseball camp this year was to get Native youth up and moving, promoting a healthy lifestyle. More than 100 youth from 11 different tribes in Arizona, including 27 from the Salt River Pima-Maricopa Indian Community, participated in this year’s camp, held on Saturday, January 12 at Salt River Fields at Talking Stick. The boys and girls met at the Salt River Recreation Department in the morning, received their camp T-shirts, and boarded a bus to take them over to Salt River Fields.
As the youth arrived, they were greeted by Nike N7 Chairman Sam McCracken, who talked about the Nike N7 organization. N stands for Native and 7 represents seven generations.
“I pitched this idea of N7 to Nike; they believed in my dream and my vision, and today we have 103 of you guys here to be physically active and participate in sports,” McCracken said to the kids. “Because of Nike N7 and because of our collaboration with athlete ambassadors, we’re able to give back to our communities through our athletes. This is our way to give back to the generations who come after us, and that is you guys.”
The kids were ready for a day of learning baseball skills and techniques from professional players. Ellsbury welcomed the youth to the camp, expressing his anticipation about working with them out on the field. He also invited up some of his professional baseball buddies to introduce themselves: Darnell McDonald (Chicago Cubs), Daniel Nava (Boston Red Sox), Cole Gillespie (San Francisco Giants), Eric Young, Jr. (Colorado Rockies) and Bill Hall (former Baltimore Orioles).
To help teach all 103 children, Nike Sparq trainers and Arizona Diamondbacks D-Backs Baseball Academy coaches were on hand to help the professional players demonstrate the training techniques that the big-leaguers use. The youth were divided into groups and went through the personal warm-up techniques of Ellsbury and the other players. Following the warm-up, the children rotated in groups at various stations where they learned infield play, outfield play, throwing and batting. Three different batting cages and tee stations were provided for the kids to try out their hitting skills.
According to Sparq Performance Head Coach Matt James, “This camp gives youth the chance to become better athletes at a younger age, and to learn drills and techniques that pro players and college kids get access to. The clinic is a way to improve their speed, agility, quickness and explosiveness. The faster and stronger they are, the better opportunity that they will have to play.”
Ellsbury, who is an enrolled member of the Colorado River Indian Tribes and a center fielder for the Boston Red Sox, dreamed of being a professional baseball player, but he knew his chances were very slim. However, with a lot of hard work and dedication, that dream came true.
James explained that Ellsbury has a wonderful work ethic. “He is always the first one at the gym and the last one out. He will take one week off, maybe two, tops. … He hits it hard before he even gets to normal spring training. He is working day in and day out; that’s a priority to him. A lot of players lose a little of that hunger and that training when they get to the [major] league; they get the big payday and they don’t work as hard. But [Ellsbury] doesn’t do that. He is not that way, that’s not what got him [to the major leagues] and he knows that’s not what’s going to keep him there.”
James continued, “For Jacoby, he grew up doing this. I trained him for 10 years, and he believes in [training hard]. He wants these youth to have the same opportunity that he did, by trying out some of this cool stuff [equipment] that he has the opportunity to use, which a lot of kids don’t.” The training equipment for the camp was donated by Nike Sparq.
But, James added, you don’t necessarily need all the fancy equipment to work on sports skills. “If you don’t have a ladder, you can put tape on the ground, like hopscotch. If you don’t have a parachute, you can use a sheet; tie it around someone’s waist and pull them back for a little resistance as they run. If you don’t have the medicine balls, take sheets and put sand in them.”
As he taught the youth during the camp, Ellsbury emphasized that physical activity is part of living a healthy lifestyle, “not necessarily to just play baseball, but just getting out and moving, and to get out there and have fun.”
Community member and longtime baseball player Kaya Hayes expressed his appreciation for being able to participate in the camp this year, because last year he missed the opportunity.
“It was good; it was different,” said Hayes. “I am glad I got to participate. It was a good experience.”
Community member Mariana Porter, 12, started playing baseball and softball at a very young age, playing on a lot of different teams learning new things from the different coaches.
“It was good. This is my first time being here, and there are a lot of kids,” said Porter. “It was cool to have the Major League Baseball players here, and the coaches, they were good at coaching, they taught us new things and [I enjoyed] learning their experiences when they first started as they were kids. I think it’s pretty cool how there is the Nike N7 with Jacoby and how he is doing all this stuff with the Native American children.”
As the camp ended, the children had the opportunity to take an individual photo with Jacoby and ask him questions.
One asked him what position he plays. “I play center field, right in the middle of that diamond,” said Jacoby as he pointed out on the baseball field.
When asked about his home-run record, he answered, “Two years ago I hit 32, but [as for my] career home runs, it’s got to be around in the 60s or 70s.”
The last question of the afternoon was posed by a young girl named Cory Carlisle, who asked why Ellsbury was not wearing his wedding ring. The newlywed laughed, saying, “You’re going to get me in trouble” as he looked in the stands at his wife. He explained that he doesn’t wear jewelry when he is practicing and playing.
“It’s great to see the kids’ faces light up. Last year we had a great time and hopefully we keep it going and it continues to grow,” said Ellsbury about this year’s baseball camp. “We had 60 kids last year, and this year it’s 103, so in just a year’s time it has almost doubled. That’s what it’s about, getting out to the youth and getting them out here and having a great time.”
Ellsbury has been training hard and will be heading to Florida with his team later this month to start spring training. He encouraged the youth to tune into his games and had them promise to continue to work hard and to get good grades in school.