CHICAGO — Fans watching the Under Armour All-America Game on MLB Network only get to see the tip of the iceberg. Obviously that's the highlight of the weekend, but there are several other great moments along the way. . .
Dream Come True
For the first time this year, the Under Armour All-Americans had Topps baseball cards produced. Each player signed 250 cards for Topps and they will be distributed as inserts in upcoming product releases.
For this baseman David Thompson from Westminster Christian High in Palmetto Bay, Fla., it was a dream come true.
"It was a pretty surreal moment," third baseman David Thompson said. "I always dreamed about having a baseball card, and now I do."
Thompson said he collected baseball cards growing up, especially of his favorite players, Derek Jeter and Alex Rodriguez.
The players took most of the morning to sign the cards in between filming spots for the MLB Network broadcast of the game and getting a sneak peek at the newest gear from Under Armour.
"That was awesome," Thompson said. "My hand got a little tired after a while, but it was a lot of fun. I need to work on my last name, it's a little weak, but it's getting there."
After the players turned their autographed cards into Topps, they got a box of their cards for themselves. All the players' boxes are down 35 cards already, since the team signed cards for each other and traded around so that everyone wound up with a complete set. Thompson said he won't have any trouble getting rid of the rest.
"I'll give them to my dad and he'll be more than happy to give them out to a bunch of people," he said.
Breaking Down Barriers
Between having one player from the Dominican that lives in New York, two players still living in the Dominican, two Puerto Rican players and several players from South Florida, there is a lot of Spanish being spoken at the event this year.
Several of the other players have been trying their best to interact with the two players from the Dominican, shortstop Yairo Munoz and outfielder Franmil Reyes.
Today at the workout, righthander Russell Reynolds from Parkview Baptist High in Baton Rouge, La. was running back and forth in the dugout, quickly learning random sentences from righthander Yency Almonte from Columbus High in Miami and relaying them to Munoz and Reyes.
"I was just trying to get to know them," said righthander Russell Reynolds from Parkview Baptist High in Baton Rouge, La. "I wanted to speak Spanish too, so I could hang out with them, but it's kind of hard when they don't speak your language."
Almonte loved being the middle man.
"It made me feel pretty special because I can understand what they're saying and, at the same time, translate what they're trying to say," said Almonte, who speaks Spanish at home to his parents and English at school. "And I'm also trying to help out Christian Dicks and Ty Hensley, so they can interact with them and they don't feel left out."
Hensley, who has taken Spanish classes since third grade, also engaged them in conversation and tried to teach them common baseball words in English.
"I was just trying to build more relationships—that's what baseball and summer's all about," Hensley said. "Baseball's just such a small community and, the more people you know, the more comfortable you feel."
Even with nine years of classes, Hensley realized he has a long way to go before he can claim to be fluent.
"I'm all right," he said. "I wouldn't say I'm on the level of native speakers or anything, but I'm all right at it. But there's a lot of slang that's different in Mexico and the Dominican, so it gets pretty tough sometimes, but you pick up certain words and recognize what they're saying."
Giving Something Back
The players get a lot out of the event. They get Under Armour gear head-to-toe, they go to a Cubs game and a White Sox game, they go bowling and they get to spend downtime in an amazing hotel with a players lounge that has two ping-pong tables and all the latest video games. Of course, there's the non-material things too like new friends and great memories. But, they also take time to give something back. On Aug. 11, the players served as camp counselors for a Ripken youth camp.
"It was nice because you're actually working with little kids and they want to know how to get better," said outfielder Fernelys Sanchez from Washington High in New York. "It feels good to give back what they teach us. It's nice to give something that the coaches teach you and pass it on."
Hensley's father, Mike, was a former professional pitcher who later spent 10 years as a college coach at Oral Roberts and Kansas State. The younger Hensley was a chip off the old block at the camp.
"It was a blast," Hensley said. "We got to work with kids that were anywhere from 6 years old to 10 years old and that's where it all starts. You never know, you could change some little kid's life. You may make them want to be a big leaguer, just because they look up to you and see how you're doing it. Just being able to work with other people and pass on what you know is a good feeling."
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