A week playing baseball alongside some of the country’s top young talent under the sunny, South Florida sky was a wonderful way for 17-year-olds A.J. Kostic and Amir Odom to spend their waning days of summer vacation.
But perhaps even sweeter: The invitation they received was delivered from Major League Baseball, a plea to the two high school seniors to spend July 27 through August 2 in Vero Beach, Florida, participating in the esteemed Hank Aaron Invitational.
The event is a “youth-oriented, on-field diversity initiative that aims to get high school-age players, with diverse backgrounds, to the next levels of the game,” per MLB.
Roughly 250 players, ages 13 to 18, received “elite-level training from former Major League players and coaches.”
Among those in attendance were MLB Commissioner Robert Manfred Jr. and Hall of Famers Ken Griffey Jr. and Andre Dawson.
“We got a lot of work in,” said Kostic, an incoming senior at Northwest Christian High School. “It was a lot of fun. Tiring, but a lot of fun.”
Baseball activities began on July 28 with early-morning, on-field stretching. Later, the camp was divided into two teams — American and National League squads — to commence team practices and scrimmages.
The days concluded with guest speakers, such as Manfred and Griffey Jr., where the boys learned the intangibles of baseball, such as the influence aggressive base running can have on a game.
On the field, the athletes had former major-league talent at their disposal, with past players on-hand to offer tips and advice to the aspiring big-leaguers.
“(Former MLB pitcher) Willie Banks helped me a lot with my pitching and helped me throw a bit harder using my hips more,” Kostic said.
“One day in particular,” he continued,“(former MLB OF) Marquis Grissom helped me with my swing, and he showed me a drill that Willie Stargell showed him. It was just stuff they said, like, ‘Take what we’re giving you here and take it back home and work on it.’”
Odom, an incoming senior and outfielder at La Joya Community High School, said his favorite part of the event was the meetings after the games, where he picked up the crucial tidbit of information on how to improve his footwork in the outfield.
“It was a great experience. I also really liked the coaches and the players, and just the competitiveness,” Odom said.
Both boys are aspiring college baseball players and feel this opportunity may trickle into receiving an athletic scholarship, after they exited Florida feeling like more polished, well-rounded ballplayers.
Although a week alongside Ken Griffey Jr. might do that to you.