NEWTOWN, Conn. – Matt Barnes has learned a lot lessons inside the white lines, and he recently tried to pass them on to young baseball players in Newtown, Conn.
Indeed, Barnes, a 6-foot-4, 205-pound, hard-throwing right-hander has built an impressive résumé in his burgeoning baseball career. But his statistical data won’t mention his most recent attempt at returning the favors afforded him along the way.
On a frigid Sunday afternoon in November, Barnes and a cadre of his baseball friends, with support from USA Baseball, welcomed nearly 200 youth baseball players from the area to participate in a clinic held at the warm and welcoming Newtown Youth Academy.
The clinic came nearly one year after a shooter entered Sandy Hook Elementary in Newtown and opened fire. Barnes, who grew up about eight miles from Newtown in Bethel, Conn., didn’t want to discuss the shooting directly. But it was clear that helping the community recover was at the forefront of Barnes’s motivation for organizing the clinic.
“I’ve been lucky to travel the world with Team USA, getting to play against teams from South Korea, Cuba and Japan,” said Barnes, who was named to the USA Baseball Collegiate National Team in 2010. “I felt this was a way for us to give back for all of the support I received when I was that age.”
Another member of that USA Baseball Collegiate National Team was George Springer, a former University of Connecticut teammate and current Houston Astros prospect who also participated in the clinic.
Barnes, the Boston Red Sox’s top pitching prospect, was lights out at the 2010 World University Baseball Championships, not allowing an earned run in the tournament as the United States garnered a silver medal. Barnes and Springer were chosen for a roster slot following a six-day run through at the USA Baseball National Training Complex in Cary, N.C.
“In addition to the travel and great baseball, I’ve met a lot of good people along the way,” Barnes said of his tenure with the national team. “The transition for me didn’t happen overnight. The route I took was perfect for me. It was the best way to go.”
Barnes and Springer came to Newtown prepared to offer numerous perspectives on the game, bringing in Chicago Cubs third baseman Mike Olt, Oakland A’s pitcher Evan Scribner, Houston Astros pitching prospect Troy Scribner and Baltimore Orioles outfield prospect Conor Bierfeldt to the handpicked coaching delegation. Pat Horvath, coach at Philadelphia University, brought several members of his team to participate. USA Baseball pitched in with additional on-field help as well.
Like Barnes and Springer, Olt suited up at UConn, while Scribner wore the colors of Central Connecticut State. Bierfeldt played at Western Connecticut State. All of the players grew up in Connecticut as well.
Following instruction, each participant received a Team USA cap and autographs from the clinicians. After each session, a raffle was conducted for numerous prizes, including Red Sox and Yankees tickets along with other signed MLB memorabilia.
The Red Sox picked Barnes in the first round of the 2011 draft. After beginning this past season at Double-A Portland, he finished out his 2013 campaign with the Triple-A Pawtucket Red Sox.
Springer, who slugged 46 career home runs with the Huskies, was selected as the Minor League Baseball Offensive Player of the Year for the 2013 season. He hit .303 with 37 homers, 108 RBI and 45 stolen bases combined for Double-A Corpus Christi and Triple-A Oklahoma City.
Outside of the positive atmosphere that enveloped the afternoon’s activities, Barnes alluded to the proverbial bigger picture aspect of the clinic.
“Responsibility to the kids here today is key,” Barnes said. “I know I’ve been fortunate, no doubt. Anything I can do to help those kids out there work towards their dreams would be an accomplishment for all of us.”
For a brief period, the tragic events that played out nearly a year ago in the tiny western Connecticut town went unmentioned. For Barnes, it was all about the game he loves. Baseball was a welcomed salve for the day.
“Looking at them run around and learning the game the right way has been awesome for me to see,” Barnes said after the two-sessions had concluded. “It’s been a great day all around. I’ve proud of the way things turned out today.”