Kansas City Royals pitcher Roman Colon threw strike after strike yesterday - but contrary to a typical day at the ballpark, he would then approach home plate to offer a tip to the batter on how to better connect with the ball.
Far away from lavish fields and cheering fans, the major leaguer played baseball Monday on a stark community park diamond under an intense Toledo sun.
Fulfilling the community service requirement of a sentence imposed early last year in Lucas County Common Pleas Court, Mr. Colon arranged to spend two days with members of the Toledo-Lucas County Police Athletic League's baseball teams. As other professional baseball players take time off during the All-Star break, Mr. Colon returned to Toledo where a June, 2007, punch in the Mud Hens clubhouse landed him in court.
"It's a legitimate charity and they do a lot of neat things for kids. I think it's exactly what the judge had in mind," said attorney Spiros Cocoves, who represented Mr. Colon. "He's not a coach, he's not a tutor. He is, on the other hand, a pretty accomplished athlete who is a member of the Major League Baseball organization and he can certainly help these kids with the fundamentals."
Throughout each two-hour session yesterday, the 29-year-old Mr. Colon emphasized school and grades to the young boys gathered around him.
He then led them in stretches before taking the field to pitch ball after ball.
"I've been having fun. So have the rest of my friends," said player Drew McNally, 10, an Oakdale Elementary fifth grader. "I think it's pretty cool that he took the time out of his day to come and help us."
Teammate D.J. Russeau, 7, said he came to the extra practice not because there was a major league pitcher on hand but because "I knew I was going to hit two doubles."
And that's exactly what the East Side Central Elementary second grader did.
The Police Athletic League has for years offered athletics and activities for at-risk youth. Although the group is known predominantly for its baseball and boxing programs, PAL also offers activities such as bowling, sewing, and cooking, program director Brandy Berends said.
"The whole goal of the program is to help these kids that are at risk for getting involved in crimes and gangs, to give them something else to do," she said.
"This is every kid's dream," she added of Mr. Colon's visit. "You're working with a professional baseball player and you love baseball."
Mr. Colon was sentenced Jan. 14, 2008, to two years probation after pleading no contest to a misdemeanor assault charge. As part of the sentence, Judge Gene Zmuda ordered 200 hours of community service to be specifically served in Toledo and with helping disabled or disadvantaged youth play baseball.
The charge was the result of an altercation in the Mud Hens clubhouse at Fifth Third Field on June 12, 2007.
A former Detroit Tiger who was with the Mud Hens while rehabilitating from neck surgery, Mr. Colon punched fellow pitcher Jason Karnuth. Mr. Karnuth was attempting to break up a fight between Mr. Colon and other players at the time and suffered serious facial injuries.
Yesterday, Mr. Colon shouted encouragement to the youngsters on the field and mingled with them during breaks but declined to comment about the incident that brought him there.
"That's what it's all about," he said, referring to the young boys.
At one point during the day, he told the youths: "I believe I should be doing this on my own, not because somebody told me to do it."
Michael Sorosiak said he's seen the pitcher on television and was excited to learn of the extra practice.
While his mother and younger sister watched, he fielded balls in the infield and took his turn at bat.
"I learned new stretches and different ways to bat and field," the 12-year-old Northwood Middle School seventh grader said.
"It was a good practice."
Blade photographer Dave Zapotosky contributed to this report.
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