Major League baseball player Jerry Sands, center, gives batting instruction to 10-year-old Lucas Crickmore last Tuesday afternoon in Wendell.
WENDELL -- Local baseball players have found there is an upside to Major League Baseball’s most recent pair of offseasons.
That’s thanks to Pittsburgh Pirates left fielder and first baseman Jerry Sands, who has lived in Wendell for the last year and offered area youth something far more personal than a game day experience at a big-league ballpark. Sands is currently wrapping up his second offseason offering one-on-one instruction to young players in Wendell.
Sands, 25, a former standout for Smithfield-Selma High School, said he was looking for a little extra income during the offseason and said the obvious solution was passing on his knowledge of the game to the future of the sport.
“I just wanted to see where it would go,” Sands said of his instructional sessions. “I appreciated the help I got when I was younger, so I figure if I can help these kids out with some fundamentals while they are younger, it will definitely help.”
Giving youth the opportunity to work with a major leaguer left Sands a busy man during his down time from professional baseball.
His teaching venture began slowly last offseason as he spread word of his classes around local parks and recreation departments. Today, just a handful of weeks left before he reports for spring training, he spreads regular sessions with 15 to 20 young players across four days each week.
“I built off of last year into this year, and every night that I do it I have at least four or five lessons,” Sands said.
Sands’ students range anywhere from age 7 to high schoolers, but most are young. He said they’re still old enough to realize who they are working with.
“They start looking for it, and the parents know who I am,” Sands said. “With the accessibility (the students) have with the Internet, after working with me a time or two they start to put a name with a face.”
Ten-year-old Lucas Crickmore, a fifth-grade student at Carver Elementary School, first began working with Sands in early 2012.
Lucas admitted he was a little star struck when he first met Sands, and is still a little self-conscious of what a major leaguer thinks about his game, but said it’s been “pretty cool” to meet and work with a pro player.
“I worry about if I’m doing what he’s been teaching me to do right,” Lucas said. “But he gives out good instruction and to me is a good trainer.”
Originally from upstate New York, Sands grew up in the Wilsons Mills area of Johnston County. He met his wife, Morgan, a native of the Corinth Holders/Emit area, during their high school years at SSS, and the two bought a home in Wendell two years ago.
He was traded from Los Angeles to Boston in October, and traded again from Boston to Pittsburgh in December. Sands will report for spring training with the Pirates Feb. 14.
“I’m excited,” Sands said of starting the upcoming season with Pittsburgh. “It’s a young team and there’s good opportunities there, so I’m hoping for the best.”