CARINGBAH, Australia -- Faced with the choice of playing cricket or baseball, 9-year-old Thomas Horne chose baseball. Now 13, and attending Endeavor Sports High School in Caringbah -- a suburb of Sydney -- Horne plays on the baseball team as a center fielder and pitcher.
On Wednesday, a bright, blustery afternoon, Horne and his teammates were among those bringing the game to an even younger generation of players at the MLBPAA Legends For Youth Clinic. The mission of the clinics is to provide a fun, positive baseball experience; to provide children with positive role models, stress the importance of education and to teach young ballplayers the game's fundamentals in a multi-station format.
"It's been heaps of fun, teaching them all the skills and stuff," Horne said of his role at the event. "When I was in primary school I never had this, so it's great opportunity for them."
Led by MLBPAA COO Geoff Hixson, Wednesday's clinic was part of a weeklong Sydney campaign that is closely tied to Major League Baseball's Opening Series between the Los Angeles Dodgers and Arizona Diamondbacks.
"We're here to grow the game of baseball," said Hixson, standing in the middle of a buzzing practice field. "Baseball is an international game, the Alumni [Association] is an international organization. This year alone we are going to do 110 clinics in seven countries. We were in Perth, [Australia,] at the start of the year, this is the second trip to Australia this year, and these are the first two times that we've ever been to Australia. Obviously, baseball is growing quickly here."
Surrounding Hixon were more than 100 young Australian boys and girls, all of whom signed up months in advance, and all of whom acted quickly to secure spots. The event had a waiting list nearly as long as its list of attendees.
Among the instructors on hand Wednesday were three former Major Leaguers -- Rene Gonzales, Todd Haney and Rich Thompson -- who have combined to appear in nearly 900 Major League games for 10 different organizations.
Thompson, a 29-year-old Australian, is just two year years removed from his most recent Major League outing and is currently rehabbing from a back injury sustained last spring as a member of the Toronto Blue Jays organization.
"It's a great thing for Australian kids to get exposure to baseball," Thompson said between drills. "It's a great sporting culture here in Australia, and these kids are just great."
Earlier in the day, Thompson, along with the rest of the MLBPAA crew, had gotten their first glimpse of the baseball-ready Sydney Cricket Ground, and for a lifelong Aussie baseball man, it was a truly special experience.
"To see the SCG like that is a dream come true," Thompson said. "I never thought that this would happen, and it's just been a spectacular thing to be a part of it."
Joining the Major League Alumni and the Endeavor High players were members of the Sydney Blue Sox -- all working with their young charges on pitching, hitting and life skills drills. According to the Dave Davids, Director of Sport at Endeavor High School, the opportunity to be involved with such a day was one not to be missed.
"Bringing things like this out, getting kids exposed to the actual game -- seeing it, the touch and the feel -- it's just great," Davids said. "This event is the best thing that I've been a part of here in seven years."
Echoing Davids' sentiment was Anthony Bennett, director of the 5 Sports facility that hosted Wednesday's clinic.
"In my mind, [the MLB Opening Series] is without a doubt the largest single sporting event that we've had here on an international basis since the [2000 Summer] Olympics," Bennett said. "And it's great to see how the kids really want to play. The sport just has so much potential here."
At the end of the day, however, it is all about the kids. Speaking with Horne, one was taken by the young man's love for the game. Asked if he saw himself sticking with it, he left no room for doubt.
"Definitely," Horne said. "I used to play soccer, but I've quit now because I just love baseball so much."
And the sentiment isn't fleeting. Asked where he wants to be in five years, the answer comes without hesitation.
"Playing in the MLB. That's my goal."This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.