Young minds hear big leaguers’ pitch on healthy choices

EVERETT — He’s a Pittsburgh Pirates right fielder, but Travis Snider was at first base. Geoff Brown, Snider’s former Jackson High School teammate, was ready to pitch.

Brown grinned at the crowd — a boisterous bunch — before making his toss.

And a little kid kicked that big, red bouncy ball across the gym at the Everett Boys &Girls Club.

It was kickball, not baseball. But the big guys in the kids’ game Thursday were all in town on breaks from professional baseball careers.

By early February, Snider will be in Bradenton, Fla., for spring training. The major leaguer and four other players stopped by the Everett club on the icy afternoon to help launch a six-week “Healthy Choices, Healthy Children” program.

It’s a curriculum put on in partnership with the Cal Ripken Sr. Foundation. The aim is teaching kids life lessons and building their characters.

Children who come to the club after school each day get a chance to take the course, which meets each Friday. Using workbooks, they cover aspects of success, including work ethic, respect, teamwork and leadership.

“I used to come here to play ball. It’s really special to be here,” Snider told dozens of kids crowded onto bleachers to hear the players talk before the kickball game. As an introduction to the program, Snider talked about work ethic.

“It’s what you do every day to get better at what you do,” said Snider, who wore his Pirates jersey — No. 23. “The only thing you can do is control how hard you work.”

Those kids just might want to follow Snider’s example of work, play and skill.

He graduated from Jackson in 2006, the year the school took the state baseball title. As a high school hitter, the left-handed Snider was drafted in the first round by the Toronto Blue Jays. He was traded to the Pirates last year.

Two others from that championship Jackson team, 2007 graduates Brown and Kawika Emsley-Pai, joined Snider at the Everett club Thursday. Emsley-Pai plays in the minor leagues with the Pittsburgh Pirates organization, and Brown is in the Los Angeles Dodgers farm system.

Steven Souza, a 2007 Cascade High School graduate now in the minors with the Washington Nationals organization, and Shorewood High School’s Pierce Rankin, now in Blue Jays minor league system, also talked with the kids.

All the players were up for kickball and stuck around to help serve a pizza dinner.

“They’ll feed 75 to 100 kids tonight,” said Charlie Cobb, a former Cascade High basketball coach who was inducted into the school’s Athletics Hall of Fame in November.

Cobb volunteers at the club and was there Thursday, along with Ed Gay, facilities administrator with Boys &Girls Clubs of Snohomish County. Gay is a former Cascade baseball coach.

Andie Allred, program director at the Everett club, said the club serves kids a free meal at 5 p.m. Mondays through Fridays, year-round. “The whole point of Boys &Girls Clubs is to be a home away from home. This is where they come,” she said.

Mark Carter, an Everett police officer, was also at the club Thursday. He’s involved in the Cal Ripken Sr. Foundation’s Badges for Baseball camp for kids. The four-day summer program is held at Kasch Park near Paine Field.

“We try to hook them with a healthy message,” Carter said.

Souza, the Cascade graduate, had plenty of healthy advice for his young audience.

“Who here loves Oreos?” he asked the group. All hands went up. When he asked, “Who loves broccoli?” and fewer hands were raised, Souza took the chance to talk about habits.

“You develop life habits, and you develop a certain discipline,” Souza said. “Life is not easy. But if you stand for nothing, you’ll fall for anything.”

After kickball, as kids made their way to where pizza was served, I asked the ballplayer if he thought his visit would make a lasting difference.

“Sometimes it’s not a matter of how many kids you reach,” Souza said. “It can change a life. That’s why we’re here.”

Julie Muhlstein: 425-339-3460; muhlstein@heraldnet.com.

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