As Saturday afternoon’s Turn 2 Athletics pitching clinic wraps up, a group of 10 boys huddles around for a Q-and-A with the event’s star attraction.
“How do you throw your change-up?” one boy asks the tall man standing in front of him.
The man shows one grip, then adjusts his hands slightly to show another.
“When I played with Felix Hernandez he used to hold it like this,” the man says, showing off the grip. “He threw one of the greatest change-ups ever.”
For the past three years, New York Yankees pitcher James Paxton has returned to Eau Claire to host a baseball clinic for local children. The Canadian-born, former Mariner’s wife is from the area and Paxton spends much of his offseason working out in Eau Claire before heading down to spring training and eventually to New York.
“I just want to give back to the community,” Paxton said. “I went to camps when I was their age and listened to guys talk, I never got to have the opportunity to have a big league player run the camp, but I feel like it helped me a lot and it’s just fun to give back and try to help these kids reach their dreams.”
The 31-year-old Paxton spent two three-hour sessions Saturday working with the boys on everything from pitching mechanics, to arm health, to how to throw a cutter, and even covering first base. It was a special treat for the two dozen boys who showed up for the clinic.
“It’s really cool to learn from the best and pick up a few things,” Eau Claire North senior Dalton Steele said. “It’s a lot more detailed and in depth and he notices things that a lot of other coaches miss.”
The small size of the event allowed Paxton to have one-on-one time with the boys and ensure each one of them had an opportunity to work with the Big Leaguer.
“I think the biggest thing for me is when I see a kid making an adjustment and learning something, that’s the coolest thing for me,” Paxton said. “When I tell someone something and he tries it out and I see the look on his face when it works, that’s the most fun.”
For event-organizer Jesse Brockman, having Paxton around takes his clinics to a much higher level.
“He sees way more than I do,” Brockman said. “When it comes to running a pitching clinic, having James here is beyond what I can teach them. I can take them so far — I don’t know nothing — but having his knowledge base, his level of information is beyond what I have.”
Paxton said he was impressed by the skill of the boys and he hopes they were able to take something away from the clinic that will allow them to flourish in the future.