A day with Jacoby
Boston Red Sox centerfielder hosts baseball camp for Native youth
By Quentin Jodie
SCOTTSDALE, Ariz., January 17, 2013
(Special to the Times – Donovan Quintero)
T he plush manicured grounds inside the Salt River Fields at Talking Stick in Scottsdale, Ariz., was overrun with Native American kids between the ages of 8 to 16 on Saturday.
They took part in the Second Annual N7 Jacoby Ellsbury Baseball Camp on the same complex that is used by the Arizona Diamondbacks and the Colorado Rockies during the spring training session in Major League Baseball.
Ellsbury, who is a registered member of the Colorado River Indian Tribes and centerfielder for the Boston Red Sox, conducted his baseball camp to the tune of 130-plus kids, which included a few athletes from the Navajo reservation.
"It's great to see the kids' faces light up," Ellsbury said. "Last year we started out with 60 kids and this year we had 130 of them."
And while it's important to start learning the basics at an early age, Ellsbury said the purpose of his camp was to "get kids involved."
"N7 is about getting kids out, getting them active," Ellsbury said. "Getting the kids to live a healthy active lifestyle. That is the what the initiative is all about."
Sam McCraken, the creator of the Nike N7 group, said he was extremely pleased with the turnout on Saturday as each kid got a lot of individual attention from athletes and personnel associated with MLB.
"It was great," McCraken said. "What these kids are walking away from is hands-on experience. Not only did Jacoby Ellsbury, our ambassador, come out and help, but his friends took part of this event. The Arizona Diamondbacks, who are great partners of ours, brought in their coaching academy to help facilitate it."
McCraken said in the future he is hoping to make the event bigger, but he needs more sponsorship to make it happen.
"I think this a perfect size," he said, while adding that the N7 foundation was started as a way to combat the high prevalence of obesity and Type 2 diabetes among Native Americans.
The former high school basketball coach, who became an entrepreneur, pitched that idea to Nike officials about crafting a brand to address this epidemic.
"When I started to create the brand I asked myself, 'How can I leverage the power of sport and all the benefits that come through sports to help our kids address the challenges in our community?'
"And knowing the high rate of diabetes and knowing the high rate of obesity and suicide rates in our communities, if sport can play a role and help change that – I wanted to be a part of that."
And to help bring this to the forefront, the N7 foundation has used other professional athletes such as marathon runner Alvina Begay and Oklahoma football player Sam Bradford to help promote its initiative.
"That is the beauty about N7," McCraken said. "Each one of the ambassadors came to me and wanted to volunteer their time and give back to the community. They can…spend their spare time on other things, but they choose to give back to a community that we all care about."
At this year's camp, it was broken down into numerous stations where the kids worked on footwork, batting, catching and throwing.
At one of those stations, the campers were strapped to a parachute and ran 100 feet to test their agility.
"Jacoby grew up doing this," camp facilitator Matt James said. "I trained him for 10 years and he is a kid that has developed a wonderful work ethic. He is the first one at the gym and the last one to leave."
James, who is a sports performance coach for Nike and Sparq, said Ellsbury was a typical kid who was naturally blessed with an athletic ability.
"He was gifted, but one thing I admire about him is the passion he has for his art," he said. "He is never satisfied with where he is at. He's working day in and day out and that's a priority for him."
James said a lot of the pro athletes that make it to the big league tend to lose a little bit of that hunger, but not Ellsbury.
"Some of them earn big paydays so they don't work as hard," he said. "That is not how he operates. He knows that he still needs to keep working hard."
As for the equipment used during the camp, James said Ellsbury used them for resistance training while growing up in Oregon.
"He got faster, stronger and quicker with them, so he believes these things really work," he said of the reason for using the parachutes and the medicine balls at the camp. "He wants to make sure the kids have an opportunity to try out some of the cool stuff he used."
According to McCraken, all the equipment used on Saturday was going to be donated to the youth.
"All of it is going back to the kids," he said. "Some of it will stay here in the Phoenix area while some of it will be going out to places like Parker (Ariz.)."
McCraken said he was pleased with the way things turned out and he's hoping to include other Native American tribes outside of Arizona next year to be part of the N7 camp.
"It's always open to availability," he said. "We actually had an inquiry from the Muskogee Creek Nation in Oklahoma to come out, but the resources were not available for them."
As for the ones who were invited, he said it was ideal "since these campers made it a day trip."
One of those campers that took part in this event was 14-year-old David Duncan of Winslow, Ariz.
According to his mother, Claudia Duncan, her son learned a lot at the camp, especially from the Diamondbacks organization.
"He is more into MMA," she said, "but I think the camp kind of gave him an idea about the game of baseball. They showed him a lot."