On Tuesday, the Los Angeles Angels earned their wings and polished their halos as they proved to be genuine guardian angels to the 60 participants in the Breakthrough Series.
The first-year initiative, co-sponsored by Major League Baseball and USA Baseball, provides a showcase opportunity and educational components for urban high school prospects throughout the country who ordinarily would not have the financial means to travel to high-priced tryouts.
The four-day Breakthrough Series is being hosted at the Urban Youth Academy in Compton, CA, which is directed by former Angel Darrell Miller.
Several current and former Angels took the field at the UYA on Tuesday to offer instructional clinics in infield defense, catching and pitching.
Demonta Streeter, a 17-year-old catcher from Creekside High in Atlanta, was impressed with the tips he gleaned from Ryan Budde's clinic.
"We worked on balance and form and ran T-drills, which teach you how to get on your feet to throw out runners," he said. "He also showed us how to block the ball and frame pitches."
Likewise, 16-year-old D.J. Johnson, a Cook High (Adel, Ga.) middle infielder, participated in Macier Izturis' infield clinic.
"We learned how to break down on the ball, using stutter steps," Johnson said. "He said that the proper way to field a ground ball is to stay down until you watch it go into your glove, then take it to your beltline, shuffle and throw."
Former Angels all-star Bobby Grich also led an infield clinic, while former Angels catcher Ike Hampton provided catching instruction. Bullpen catcher Steve Soliz ran the pitching clinic.
After lunch, infield and outfield testing began, which consisted of throwing and catching drills evaluated by MLB Scouting Bureau scouts. The prospects also were timed in 60-yard dashes.
Later the excited teens boarded a bus for the ride to Angels Stadium in Anaheim.
There they gathered behind the Angels' dugout, where they watched the team take batting practice.
After batting practice, Angels owner Arte Moreno and General Manager Tony Reagins spoke with the participants, particularly emphasizing the crucial role that hard work plays in a successful big league career.
Angels outfielder Gary Matthews, Jr., who grew up in Los Angeles, also addressed the high schoolers and later said,
"I've spoken with Darrell Miller at length," Matthews said. "He, in addition to Major League Baseball, has been a really big influence in getting the Angels involved and deserves a lot of credit. I told him today that I am looking forward to going out to the Urban Youth Academy and getting even more involved during this offseason."
Finally, the boys watched the Angels take on the Cleveland Indians. The Rally Monkey, who is coaxed onto the Diamondvision screen only when the Angels are down three runs after the sixth inning, would not make an appearance on this evening.
Although Jered Weaver surrendered two runs before exiting after the third inning with back tightness, the bullpen shut down the Cleveland offense to provide a 3-2 Angels victory, raising their record to a major-league best 61-39.
Which goes to show that sometimes nice guys do finish first.
Tomorrow: Let the games begin.