Sept. 2, 2007 — As the sun began to set on St. Thomas Friday, the Emile Griffith Ballpark was lit up by the bright smiles of students who had gathered to play some afternoon baseball — with scouts from the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim.
For the past four years, the Angels' workshops have turned into a feature event for the territory, with St. Croix native Arnold Brathwaite conducting batting, hitting and fielding drills for participants alongside the club's Midwest scouts, Kevin Ham and Ron Marginy.
Created in conjunction with the Department of Housing, Parks and Recreation, the workshops are meant to give young talent some of the same opportunities as students on the mainland, Brathwaite said.
As usual, Griffith was packed for the event, with at least 100 students and parents turning out to participate. This year, the scouts unveiled some new wrinkles, merging everyday practice drills with challenges meant to showcase the fastest runners and batters.
The goal, Brathwaite explained, was to create an environment similar to the major leagues, when teams are gearing up for spring training.
Prepared for the event, students wandered in dressed in their respective Pee-Wee and Little League uniforms, toting heavy equipment bags filled with bats and gloves.
"It's going to be exciting, meeting and playing with the professionals," said eight year-old Vernon Morgan, a student at Saints Peter and Paul Catholic School.
"Yeah, we get to meet the Angels," added an excited Kaleek Brannigan, a friend of Morgan's and a student at Calvary Baptist Academy.
Parents were also thrilled, saying the scouts could also impart valuable life lessons.
"It takes a lot of hard work to go after your dreams," said Delroy Gerard, one of the territory's little league coaches. "That's what these guys are here for — to teach the kids what it takes to get them to a higher level. There's also a lesson here for the parents, though. It shows us that we have to keep taking part in what our kids are involved in, making sure that we see what they're doing and how they're developing. "
Brathwaite agreed, explaining that there is potential on the local level — enough to develop students to play in tournaments, and eventually in the major leagues.
"The kids are our focus, our future, and we have to keep supporting them in any way we can," he said. "So, this is going to be an ongoing process for us, and hopefully the events will keep growing bigger, so we can incorporate more things and get other clubs involved in the process."
According to Marginy, local coaches also have to provide more avenues for V.I. athletes, increasing the number of leagues and other opportunities for students between the ages of 14 and 16.
"We do run into a lot of athletic ability down here, baseball-wise," he explained. "But what I've noticed over the past four years is that there's a gap between little league and high school where there are not enough avenues available that allow the kids to keep playing all year round. So, the athleticism may be there, but by the time they get to the college level the fundamentals may be lacking."
The annual workshops are an attempt to cut down on the disparity, Brathwaite added.
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