Seconds after Chicago Cubs rookie outfielder prospect Reggie Golden placed a Wiffle ball on a batting tee for Kabre Bell, the Sequoia charter school fifth-grader knew what to do: He took a hearty swing with a bat and smacked the ball into a net being used for a backstop.
Sporting a Chicago Cubs cap, determination and a smile, Kabre was among 70 students at the Sequoia School for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing who learned basic baseball skills from six top rookie prospects for the Cubs on Wednesday.
They stretched. They ran. They hit and they threw.
At another station, outfielder Tyler Colvin patiently signed autographs and passed out Cubs caps to the kids, many of whom had to tell him their names in sign language so he could personalize his signature to them.
Although the baseball season is over and the World Series champion has long been crowned (the Cubs and its fans again will have to wait until next year), the Cubs players - outfielders Taiwan Easterling, Golden and Colvin, first baseman Justin Bour, second baseman Zeke Devoss and third baseman Dustin Geiger - are in Mesa for the next four months as part of a hand-picked winter conditioning program leading up to spring training.
Wednesday's event was part of a community outreach to help the team stay in touch with the city and let people know the Cubs will be training in Mesa for a long time. The city is moving forward with plans to build a new $99 million spring training complex for the Cubs at Mesa's Riverview Park. The facility is slated to be completed for the beginning of the 2013 season.
Another five players were at Banner Cardon's Children Medical Center visiting young patients on Wednesday while the others took part in the clinic at Sequoia. The Cubs plan to do more events in the future.
After he was done taking his cuts, Kabre said by sign language through teacher Kamilah Browning, "I liked it. It was cool."
He had not played baseball before, mostly soccer and football and said he is getting ready to move on to basketball.
But will he play baseball in the future?
"Maybe," he said.
Cassidy LeBaron, 10, also a fifth-grader at the school, soon followed Kabre in trying her luck at hitting the ball.
"It was good," she said through Browning. "I played a little before. The running part was fun."
As for the kids' playing skill, Golden said, "They were pretty good, actually. One of the kids said he had his own equipment at home."
Other students from the school also took their chances running the base paths, throwing and swinging a bat: First-graders Oscar Perez III, Tanner Trejo and Ashley Young and second-grader Joannah Vasel were just a few among them. Some swung and missed at first, but they stepped back up to the plate and tried again.
Assistant principal Jennifer Reid said of the event, "This gives the students an opportunity to learn baseball, and for many of them, it's their first time in playing it."
Last year, during the Proposition 420 election for the new spring training facility, Dutchie Caray, the widow of legendary Cubs broadcaster Harry Caray and Cubs owner Tom Ricketts visited the school. The students later received tickets to attend a spring training game at Hohokam Stadium, the first time for many of them to attend a baseball game, Reid said.
"I'm sure it was an experience they won't forget, and we appreciate the partnership with the Cubs."
Doug Jarrow, the Cubs' strength and conditioning coordinator who is overseeing the players' progress during the next four months, said, "We want to get involved with the kids and community and try to do as many events as we can to give back to Mesa. We're going to be here for a long time, and we're excited to get more and more involved."
Golden said, "Every time we smiled at the kids, we got a smile back."
Now, if the Cubs who are in search of their first World Championship since 1908 can transfer that success to next year's playing field, they'll be batting 1.000.
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