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Young Pirates teach Wakeland about health

BRADENTON — Under the shade of looping Spanish moss outside Wakeland Elementary on Thursday afternoon, Chris Dunaway is talking to the kids.

“It’s not just how much you put in your body,” the Pittsburgh Pirates minor-league strength and conditioning coach says. “It’s what you put in your body ... or you’ll end up heavy. Fat.”

Pirates minor leaguer Charles Benoit laughs and glances at teammate Sean Giblin, who suppressed his grin. Fellow Pirate Bradley Clapp pays no attention. All three are minor-league pitchers, and each wants to pass on something they never had in their elementary physical education classes. Something besides dodge ball and tag, free throws and badminton.

Having come right across 27th Street East from Pirate City, they want to demonstrate what they call the “Science of Baseball.”

The kids had been studying components of the body, and now could put what they learned into motion, in the form of a minor-league baseball players’ warm-up routine.

The players message seems to latch onto the kids’ minds.

“I learned if you don’t stay in shape and do everything like eating a good breakfast,” says student Esmeralda Garcia, 9, “then you can be more fat than you are right now.”

These fourth graders not only receive advice from professional-level athletes, they participate in the Pirates actual pre-practice workout, such as the awkward stretches and funky running drills from cone to cone.

Roberto Martinez, 9, says he’ll continue do the exercises.

“l’ll do them anytime,” he says. “Because if you stay fit and we’re eating good breakfast, lunch and dinner and taking care of ourselves, exercise and finish college, we can do whatever we want. Any sport, any job.”

The players were surprised that none of the kids asked about what has tarnished the perception of a professional baseball player’s workout — steroids.

“I was shocked no one brought it up,” Clapp said. “Fortunately, steroids won’t be part of the game in the future.”

If there is a post-steroids era, Clapp may be considered a part, because he was one of the fans who felt the sting that comes when a hero is perceived as a fraud. The 24-year-old grew up in the Seattle area, and first saw a professional workout at a Mariners spring training split-squad game. At the time, Alex Rodriguez was the Mariners’ young superstar shortstop. Clapp idolized the slick-fielding, smooth-swinging Rodriguez. Then recently, Rodriguez admitted to using performance-enhancing drugs.

“I was heart-broken,” Clapp said.

Clapp doesn’t want to see these kids in similar pain. Nor did he or the other Pirates want to rehash the seedy underbelly of professional baseball.

“One thing no one is talking about,” Giblin said, “is the positive side of baseball.”

And so here they are, speaking to a generation somewhat removed from the steroids era. The class had been studying laws of motion, speaking about the body as if it were a simple machine.

“With the players coming,” said fourth grade teacher Ashley Grimes, “it helps bring it all to life.”

At the end of the workout, Dunaway asks the kids, “Who’s tired?” Almost all of them raise their hands. Even the players stick their hands high.

“Alright,” Clapp says. “Should we have them run double poles?”

Nick Walter, writer, can be contacted at 748-0411, ext. 7013.