Little Leaguers Encouraged By Pro Baseball Visit

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Aspiring major league catcher Neil Medchill has been drafted by the California Angels, drove home the winning run in the Michigan High School All-Star baseball game and now stars for the Chandler-Gilbert Community College baseball team.

But it was a trip to Payson to help train aspiring Little League baseball players that thrilled the 20-year-old.

"It's a lot of fun doing this. I enjoy it," he said, while tossing ground balls to some of the 150-plus young athletes who showed up Jan. 27 for an Arizona Diamondbacks minicamp, held on the Payson High School baseball field.

Making the jaunt to Payson along with Medchill was former Diamondbacks and Chicago Cubs star Mark Grace, players Chris Young and Doug Slaten, along with coach Glenn Sherlock.

Grace, who is best remembered for jump-starting the ninth inning rally that helped Arizona beat the New York Yankees in the seventh and deciding game of the 2001 World Series, watched quietly as camp coaches put the young players through their paces.

Young and Slaten, donned in Arizona's new red uniforms, participated in the clinic, lending encouragement to the young campers.

The Rim Country stop was one of four the professional baseball contingent made around the state as part of the Arizona Diamondbacks APS Hometown Tour.

The group later visited Florence, Kearny and Show Low.

During a noontime respite from the Payson miniclinic, the Diamondback representatives held a public autograph session in the PHS gymnasium where members of last year's Little League all-star teams were recognized in a stirring ceremony. Diamondback broadcaster Jeff Munn announced each All-Star's name as the star-struck players individually ran to center court amidst darkened lights, a spotlight, misted fog and the Arizona baseball team's pep song blaring.

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Neil Medchill shows Payson Little League players some of the finer points of catching and throwing.

In addition to the clinic and autograph session, the day also was an opportunity for young athletes ages 6 to 15 to sign up for the 2007 season.

Jan Parsons, APS Manager of Customer Service for Gila and Navajo counties, volunteered to help register players.

"We signed up almost 100," she said. "It was a busy morning."

Parsons called the Little League registration and the accompanying clinic "an overwhelming success."

"Having (the Diamondbacks) here generated a lot of interest," she said.

As evidence, Parsons pointed out that, originally, the skills camp was to host just 100 preregistered players but when more showed up, coaches opted to accept all who turned out.

"The Diamondbacks just said, ‘We'll keep them all.' No one was turned away," Parsons said.

Young athletes who missed the registration may sign up 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. through Feb. 23 at Intermountain West/Payson Saw Cut located at 107 N. Tonto.

For more information about Little League, call Linda Schreur at (928) 472-9331.

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