KALAMAZOO, Mich. — Fifth grader Tayla Dillard had fun Wednesday morning participating in a baseball clinic at Homer Stryker Field, home of the Growlers. She learned how to run the bases a little faster and pick up ground balls. Then, she met the host.
“I just start chanting his name over and over and when he finally came, like when I saw him, it was like really cool,” said Dillard about meeting Yankees legend Derek Jeter. “Like I couldn’t believe that was actually here.”
Jeter returned to his hometown to put on an annual baseball clinic with his charity organization the Turn 2 Foundation. Around 125 kids learned baseball fundamentals from the coaching staff and life lessons from him.
“This is where we grew up,” said Jeter. “This is where I had my own dreams to play professional baseball. Where my sister had her dreams. When you’re younger, this is when your mind is shaped.”
Jeter spoke to the wide-eyed bunch for about 30 minutes. He told them to do well in school, be a leader both on and off the field and to surround themselves with good people. He and his sister Sharlee, who runs the foundation now, credit their success and positivity lifestyle to their parents.
“Derek said to stay away from drugs and alcohol because they might like mess up your body,” said Talahn Sandifer, another 5th grader at the clinic. “He said don’t be on video games that much and stay active.”
Jeter said when he was growing up in Kalamazoo, he saw kids playing outside all the time. With iPhones and other gadgets today, that’s almost unheard of.
“Now it seems like everyone it’s just so consumed with staying at home and playing on video games,” said Jeter. “What we’ve tried to do with our foundation is promote healthy lifestyles and get kids to be more active.”
Hours after speaking to the kids, he travelled crosstown to the Expo Center for Nickelodeon’s Worldwide Day of Play event. Hundreds of kids and their parents played in one of the several activities offered, whether it was field hockey or tossing a football through a hoop. He and the popular kids cable network teamed up to promote healthy lifestyles and being active. He's grateful to give back to the community in this way. He just wants the kids to know that he and the Turn 2 Foundation has their back.
“Hopefully these kids will go on to be very successful in their own right,” said Jeter. “They’ll be the leaders of tomorrow.”