For New York Yankees third baseman Chase Headley, it all starts with the basics.
“You have to have a good athletic stance,” he explained, placing his feet shoulder width a part atop the grass turf in RBI Middle Tennessee.
Rather than hit the diamond on a cold Wednesday morning, the new Franklin resident led a clinic inside the hitting facility tucked away behind The Factory. But his clinic, which included two Major League umpires, wasn’t necessarily just for anyone. Instead, he had a narrow focus in mind, choosing to share his experiences with FrankTown Open Hearts students.
FrankTown is a local nonprofit organization dedicated to serving at-risk children in Williamson County, providing educational and vocational tools to positively impact their lives. In wanting to give kids the opportunity to pick from a smorgasbord of programs, FrankTown regularly tries to offer athletic options.
Headley said he first heard of the group after talking with his friend and workout partner Ben Zobrist, the 2016 World Series MVP and Chicago Cub, who hails from Franklin.
Having some baseball merchandise left over from the season, Headley asked Zobrist where he could donate it toward a positive cause. So Zobrist introduced Headley to those who run FrankTown, where he saw what the organization was doing and that it was leaving a positive impact on kids.
“I had the opportunity to get to know them, and they are a tremendous group,” Headley said. “There are some inner-city kids here that don’t have a lot available to them, and these guys are doing their absolute best to put them in a position to be able to go to college and be productive members of society. They are doing that by exposing them to all sorts of things.”
Headley said he thought the idea sounded like fun to have a clinic, one he thought about last year. Standing on the turf, Headley watched as the kids became captivated listening to the umpires.
DJ Reyburn, of Franklin, officiates for both the National and American leagues. He’s one of 76 umpires who work for Major League Baseball. In attending Fourth Avenue Church of Christ, he also got to know those who ran FrankTown. When he heard about the clinic, he realized he also wanted to jump on board.
Gathered in a semi-circle, students watched Reyburn pull equipment out of his duffel bag. He had his plate brush and clicker, explaining what he does with each. The Michigan transplant went through the mechanics of being in charge behind the plate along with the rotation he and his coworkers go through of officiating the action of the field. He’s been to every Major League Baseball park in the country. He starts work in March with spring training and ends it in October with the playoff season.
“I used to teach umpiring every winter to the new crop of minor league umpires coming in, and it’s not something I’ve done in a long time since having children,” Reyburn said. “It is fun to work with young kids.”
Reyburn told them that officiating started out as a summer job for him, and it could evolve into one day being an umpire for the MLB. He also emphasized the need for officials at the high school and college levels if they were more interested in the middle level of the umpiring profession.
“Sometimes umpiring isn’t the most glamorous part of baseball and it’s usually not something people give a lot of thought to, but these kids were so attentive, and they really seem to absorb what I was saying,” Reyburn said.
Transitioning forward, Headley took over the last half of the clinic, giving them the opportunity to take infield practice and hit baseballs off of the tee into the black net.
FrankTown Open Hearts program director Brandon Tinnon said he hoped it was a clinic that could happen again for his students.
“The more we do it, the more we will have more kids and volunteers who want to step up,” Tinnon said, watching the kids swing balls into the back. “Some kids had a little fear in them because they had never done this before. But now they are out here, and you will see the number of kids increase. There’s a kid down there right now who’s never played before, and he seems like a natural. It’s all about the opportunity.”