Thirty Glendale youth had a dream come true when they got the chance to learn from and rub shoulders with Dodgers legend Manny Mota, utility rookie Alex Castellanos, and catching prospect Matt Wallach March 18 at Camelback Ranch Stadium.
“It is a blessing to work with young kids and a great opportunity to teach young kids the fundamentals of baseball,” Mota said. “I love to spend time and teach the kids because they are the future.”
The kids were all members of the Glendale Youth Project, a non-profit program that targets youth from 8-17 years of age that have been identified as at-risk in the lower income areas of Glendale.
“The purpose of this program is to keep kids busy and off the streets,” Glendale Youth Project President Carlos Meza said. “I want them to know that they can be anything they strive for and if they work hard enough, they can be somebody.”
Mota and the Dodgers players came out to teach the kids the basics in running the bases, hitting and throwing the ball.
“We want to come out and teach them the fundamentals, try to hit the ball hard and wait for a strike and throw the ball and to run the bases,” Mota said. “But we are also going to teach them to stay focused on education and respecting people like they would want to be respected.”
Meza, who said he averages 140 kids in his program, said the Dodgers have treated him and his program amazingly well.
“They gave us the opportunity to come out and watch a pre-season game, and then workout with some players,” Meza said. “I have some kids that are such Dodgers fans, they went to Walmart and bought a Dodgers hat and T-shirt so they would fit in.”
Cindi Adler, senior manager of Player and Community Relations for the Dodgers, says this is just the beginning for the team helping the community.
“We are in the first year with our new ownership, and they want to have a great connection with the community. Los Angeles is our home, but Glendale is also our home, and we want to reinforce our commitment to the community.”
Camelback Ranch Stadium also does a lot of community-driven projects during the year, but the team also hopes to include more organizations in the future.
“Absolutely, we would love to have more groups come and the organization would love to help within the community,” Adler said. “The Dodgers hope to have more things next spring, and there is definitely room to expand this program”
Parents waited in nearby stands taking pictures and beaming with pride as they watched their kids working with Mota on hitting.
David Dittemore, watching his sons Ethan and Anthony, said his kids were hard to keep calm while watching the game between the Dodgers and Athletics before the clinic.
“They were so excited to get to go on the field, they could barely control themselves,” Dittemore said. “This program is great and to see my kids on the field learning from major leaguers, it is just amazing to watch.”
The kids were broken up into three groups as Mota taught hitting, Wallach showed the kids how to pitch and throw, and Castellanos showed them how to run bases.
“Hopefully, working with these major leaguers can tell them that they can do it because they did it,” Meza said. “Maybe one of these kids will become a major leaguer, doctor or just a great human being.”
The Glendale Youth Project teaches the importance of learning social and emotional skills, communication and teaming up effectively with others and managing emotions and discouragement.
Meza said the program, for which he does all the fundraising with his wife, has been a labor of love.
“I have been working in my community for over 16 years. I started with a boxing program that I ran out of my back yard, and the non-profit has been going for two years now.”
With kids from Apollo High School, GHS, Alhambra and Landmark elementary schools and others, Meza said that the schools have been extremely helpful in assisting him with the program.
“Glendale Unified School District and Glendale High School have been amazing. If I need a place to hold an event or someone to teach a class, vice principal Julie Patton is always willing to help and someone is there right away.”
Being it’s the first year he has been involved with the Dodgers, Meza is hoping for more from the organization.
“This has been amazing for the kids and I look forward to being back next year. I hope they look at me as a non-profit and donate anything, whether it's baseballs or jerseys, we would be happy with anything they might offer.”
Meza said for anyone interested in helping, there is more than just financial help they can offer.
“We always need help, from mentoring to being a big brother … anything helps. We always need people that can help with reading and math, so if you can volunteer time, that sometimes means more than financial.”
Anyone interested in volunteering or making a donation can go to www.glendaleyouthproject.com.
For more photos from the event, see attached gallery.