CHICAGO -- The story of youth baseball clinics put together and run by John Tumminia centers on a man wanting to give back to the game he has been associated with for 26 years.
It's the stories inside this story that make this endeavor even more heartwarming, according to the longtime White Sox professional scout.
Take, for example, a clinic from Aug. 1 held at the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in South Dakota, located amid some of the United States' poorest counties. After the successful event took place, Tumminia recounted the tale of the lengths one woman went to so that her son could enjoy baseball.
"There was one lady, she had a 2-month-old baby, an infant, and I asked how she got there," Tumminia said. "So she says to me, 'I had to hitchhike eight miles so my son, who is 9 years old, could come to the clinic. He heard about it, and he wanted to come.' She was out there with an infant in this heat, and I couldn't believe it."
The clinic took place during the London Summer Olympics and had an Olympic tie-in via Billy Mills, who became the second Native American to capture an Olympic gold medal when he won the 10,000-meter run during the 1964 Tokyo Summer Olympics. Mills gave a speech to everyone in attendance, advising the kids and their parents against being angry about their situation and environment.
By Tumminia's recollection, the boys and girls who received instruction in baseball and softball were extremely focused on what they were doing and every bit of information presented.
About three-quarters of the kids showed up without gloves, which were provided by Tumminia and his fellow workers, including White Sox scout Daraka Shaheed. And while the event was scheduled to start at 9 a.m., the bulk of the 150 kids didn't arrive until 9:30 or 10 because some of them were coming from outlying areas.
"They were all from Pine Ridge and the outskirts," Tumminia said. "Their outskirts are vast prairie land. There's nothing in between. We wanted to introduce kids to something different than they were used to, possibly because of their economic and social situation."
A previous winter clinic was run by Tumminia in the Monte Plata province of the Dominican Republic. Tumminia plans to return to the same area at the end of October with Rafael Santana, the White Sox player development and scouting supervisor for their Dominican Academy, serving as the guest speaker.
Tumminia hopes to take seven staff members to the Dominican for that trip, although he laughed while adding that he's not sure how they are going to do it. The White Sox as an organization paid the way for five people to visit South Dakota, also sending along White Sox hats and gloves, after Tumminia placed a call to White Sox chairman Jerry Reinsdorf asking for assistance.
"I called Jerry and said, 'I need your help. I need financial help. You know it's a good thing,'" Tumminia said. "He said, 'I'll get back to you,' and [White Sox vice president of communications] Scott [Reifert] called and they really came through."
"I'm not sure what we did, but we helped out a little bit," Reinsdorf said. "This is really John's project. He's a terrific guy, and I'm very proud of him. He really likes to do this kind of stuff. John is a Brooklyn boy, and all the Brooklyn boys, we were all brought up to do good stuff."
Kenya and Nepal stand as two other potential destinations for Tumminia clinics in the near future, and Havana is also on his list. The clinic at the Pine Ridge Reservation finished with a barbecue involving traditional baseball food such as hot dogs and peanuts and a rousing rending of "Take Me Out to the Ballgame," not to mention excitement instilled in children who probably hadn't had much previous organized interaction with baseball.
"Our goal is to reach out in a humanitarian way and represent baseball and, this year, the White Sox," Tumminia said. "As I was mentioning to Scott and Jerry, I want to try to give back to baseball in a different way."