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Tuesday, Sep 19, 2017
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Rays' Joyce gets young ballplayers into the swing

BRANDON - Tampa Bay Rays right fielder Matt Joyce remembers all too well the jitters of opening day at the Little League field. "I remember being nervous, terrified," he said during a break in his Sweet Swingin' Baseball Camp, at North Brandon Little League, in late January. Joyce, who played at North Brandon as a youngster, returned for a second year to get the kids pumped up for opening day, now just 10 days away. "This is awesome, to get these kids out here," said Joyce, a graduate of Armwood High School in Seffner and Florida Southern College in Lakeland. "They are getting to see faces up close that they normally see on TV."
Joyce brought a handful of big-leaguers with him, including Grant Balfour, the former Rays pitcher who's now a reliever for the Oakland A's, and Jonathan Albaladejo, who will be in the Arizona Diamondbacks' bullpen this season. The baseball camp drew 95 kids and offered pointers on pitching, hitting, infield and outfield play and base running. The camp raised $10,000: the single-largest donation to North Brandon Little League in its history, said Rob Turkett, the group's vice president. The all-volunteer organization, which will have 400 kids on 40 teams this season, will use the money for field renovations. Joyce spent much of the morning at the batting cages, giving the young ballplayers words of encouragement, tips on their batting stances — even poking a bit of fun at kids wearing Red Sox and Yankees batting helmets. You could feel the excitement as the kids moved from station to station, and they weren't shy about asking Joyce questions — about his experiences in Little League, in college and playing in the big leagues. Roxanne Santana brought her two sons – 6-year-old Ryan and 8-year-old Daniel – to the camp at the urging of their father, Daniel Santana, who is serving with the Army in Afghanistan. She made sure to get photos of the boys standing with Joyce. "Their father will be ecstatic when he sees these," Santana said. "He made this possible for them. He wanted to keep their minds occupied." The chance to interact with a big-league player will stay with the young players for a long time, Turkett said. "Stuff like this keeps the kids interested in the sport," he said. "Everybody, at this age, has dreams of being in the pros. It's the innocence of Little League baseball. "Having a guy here, a big-leaguer who played here as a kid, it's like you can reach out and touch the dream."

yhammett@tampatrib.com (813) 627-4763

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