CINCINNATI -- Chris Dickerson looked at a group of youth baseball players in the Great American Ball Park outfield and thought back to when he was a kid mesmerized by the surroundings of a big league stadium. As part of the "PLAY" campaign, around 45 kids took the field Thursday morning and participated in fitness and fielding drills under the direction of Reds head athletic trainer Paul Lessard, assistant athletic trainer Steve Baumann, strength and conditioning coordinator Matt Krause and Dickerson, the Reds' outfielder. "When I was little, I was at Dodger Stadium for autograph day, and you know, I'm just sitting there drooling, wondering what it's like to come out and run around," Dickerson said. "These guys are doing drills, doing cones -- it's awesome."
Despite being on the disabled list because of surgery on his non-throwing hand and wrist on May 3, Dickerson stood in 90-degree heat and humidity and launched long throw after throw with his left hand, teaching the art of catching fly balls at the warning track. For an hour, Dickerson coached players from around ages 8-16, offering advice and encouragement and showing excitement whenever someone came up with a big play at the wall in center field. It's a familiar setting for Dickerson, who is known for his community involvement. He said his first job came at the age of 16, helping at kids sports camps in Los Angeles. "I know how important it is, and people appreciate it," Dickerson said. "I know the kids love it, and it just sets such a good example when they see a guy like Jay [Bruce] or Brandon [Phillips] come out, or an Aaron Harang. It gives them somebody to look at and gives them a positive influence." The morning started with a 15-minute chat with Don Hooton Jr. of the Taylor Hooton Foundation. Hooton travels to PLAY programs around the country and educates kids on the dangers of anabolic steroids. After the talk, the players split up into groups and rotated in the outfield. Lessard gave health tips and led stretching exercises, Baumann ran agility drills and Krause focused on conditioning, while Dickerson led fielding practice. "The question is are they open to it," Lessard said. "At first, they're kind of bored and are like, 'Yeah, yeah, yeah, whatever.' And then something will happen during this day that will trigger something that catches their interest, and all of a sudden, it's 'OK, all right, that makes sense.' Then they start opening up and listening to you." PLAY -- which stands for Promoting a Lifetime of Activity for Youth -- started in 2004, and programs are held at all 30 Major League ballparks each year. The kids in attendance Thursday came from teams from the Reds Community Fund's Youth Baseball Funding Initiative. Before the day was done, Dickerson -- who runs the non-profit Players for the Planet -- made sure to tie in his personal cause as well. As things wrapped up in the outfield Thursday morning, Dickerson jogged into the clubhouse and returned to the field with a recycling bin in hand, encouraging the kids to recycle their used water bottles from the day. But, as with the rest of the day, he made sure to keep the weakened right hand out the way and out of trouble. "I don't think I'll have to play catch today because I just did all my throwing," Dickerson said. "That was the most I've thrown in weeks."
Matt Brown is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.