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Crawford, CC host clinic at the Trop

Crawford, CC host clinic at the Trop

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ST. PETERSBURG -- Kid after kid came down to the table in right field at Tropicana Field to greet two of baseball's superstars -- Tampa Bay's Carl Crawford and New York's CC Sabathia. The youngsters got autographs, took pictures and even got to ask both players a few questions on Wednesday.

As the procession went on, Crawford found himself asking the kids, all from the Tampa Bay-area Boys & Girls Clubs, a question of his own: Why aren't more youths like them playing baseball?

The kids may not have had an answer, but Crawford just hopes after Wednesday that a few might pick up a bat now instead of a basketball or football.

Crawford joined Sabathia in a clinic for approximately 250 kids from local Boys & Girls Clubs in the Tampa Bay area on Wednesday afternoon before the Yankees-Rays finale. The kids were allowed onto the field to meet and greet the players afterward, and they received lunch and a ticket to the game from the Rays organization.

"This is my first time doing it," Crawford said. "I'm a little nervous getting in front of a crowd. But I can definitely see myself getting better at it and doing more and more. But it was fun, I had a good time with it, and hopefully, I can do more things like this."

Crawford and Sabathia hoped the clinic would encourage more African-American youths to play baseball, as the number of African-Americans in professional baseball remains relatively low.

Both Crawford and Sabathia, with five All-Star Game appearances between them, are highly recognized as two of the game's top stars and role models in the African-American community. Sabathia won the American League Cy Young Award in 2007 and signed a $161 million contract with the Yankees over the offseason; Crawford was named MVP of the 2009 All-Star Game.

"I just hope the kids were watching," Crawford said of the All-Star Game, "because that's the big thing: getting them to watch. We definitely play a big part in this game, and they should know that."

Crawford was a three-sport star in high school -- he was offered scholarships in both basketball at UCLA and football at the University of Nebraska before deciding to play professional baseball -- and understands the incentives for kids to play other sports. But he may stand out as a poster child for what choosing baseball can mean.

"I wasn't always attracted by playing, I was more attracted by the uniform itself," Crawford said. "I told them that story, and I think they liked it. Hopefully, they can come and play more -- more African-American kids should be playing."

Sabathia, too, had signed a letter of intent to play football at the University of Hawaii before being taken with the 20th overall pick in the 1998 First-Year Player Draft by the Indians. The ace said on Wednesday he just wants kids to understand that baseball is an option.

"I sat where they sat so many years ago," Sabathia said. "If you work hard and do good in school, that's an option."

Both Sabathia and Crawford have strong ties to the Boys & Girls Club, too. Growing up in Vallejo, Calif., Sabathia said he spent a lot of time at a local club, and he fondly recalled a moment that still sticks in his mind about why he pursued baseball.

"I remember Dave Stewart coming to my Boys & Girls Club when I was 8 or 9 years old," Sabathia said. "I just remember that being such a big deal. To be able to get in front of these kids, maybe one of them will be standing where I am today."

Sabathia said he will look into doing more charity work with the New York City Boys & Girls Clubs in the future.

Likewise, Crawford said he went to a local Boys & Girls Club in his native Houston almost every day after school. It became a second home for him, which is why he was eager to take advantage of the opportunity to speak to kids on Wednesday.

"I just hope and try to touch at least one person," Crawford said.

Meanwhile, the kids just enjoyed the opportunity to be as close as possible to some of their idols, and Crawford was happy to answer their questions -- How does he hit home runs? How did he get so fast? How much money does he make?

Crawford also hopes at least one of these kids will be holding their own clinic as a professional ballplayer someday down the road.

"I think it's very important that they can actually see us and actually put a face with body, because they don't actually see us that much," Crawford said. "I think when you see them and actually get to talk to them in person, it makes a big difference."

Zach Schonbrun is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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