PANAMA CITY, Fla. (WJHG/WECP) -A youth baseball tournament provided a visit from one of the all time great Atlanta Braves players Sunday. Andruw Jones spent time at the Publix Sports Complex Sunday afternoon. That venue is hosting a Ripken Baseball Select Tournament, with 25 teams playing a series of games in three age division. All that kicking off Sunday with Jones helping to get the action started.

Jones now taking on the role of an ambassador for the game of baseball, and youth baseball in particular. He helped out with the opening ceremonies, and even tossed out the ceremonial “first pitch”! Beforehand he spoke to us about growing up in Curacao and how there weren’t nearly as many opportunities to play, much less in venues like this one here. He carried that message to the field, and spoke at length to the young ballplayers about how they should appreciate the opportunities they have to play so much baseball on the youth level. And he stressed at this age, kids should be playing for the love of the game, and to not let some coach or parent ruin that for them!

“You know seeing so much going around baseball, especially youth baseball, the coaches feel like they want it more than the kids want it.” Jones told us, with that same message delivered to the crowd when he spoke. “I think that’s my goal to speak to the parents, the coaches and the kids, let the kids want the game! Let them go out there and have . You know there’s always going to be a loser, and you know go out there and give it all you’ve got, and if you win you win. If you lose, know that you gave it all you’ve got out there.”

Wise words from a guy who played 17 seasons in the bigs, 12 of them with the Braves, while hitting 434 home runs and winning ten gold gloves. Andruw’s message to the kids Sunday stressing they should appreciate the opportunities given to them in terms of travel ball. Especially being able to play in venues like the new PCB Complex. Growing up as he did in Curacao, a tiny island nation just north of Venezuela, well he says, the opportunities weren’t as readily available. It was his love of the game that drove him to succeed!

“You know I had a dream that I wanted, I told my mom that I wanted to play baseball on TV. I never thought I’d be a professional baseball player. But I just told her that I wanted to play because I grew up watching the winter ball in Venezuela. And the World Series and stuff like that. All I wanted to do is play baseball, all I wanted to do was play baseball on TV. And I had a dream about it and you know I put my goals that I wanted to do. And when the opportunity came to make a decision to come to the states and play professional baseball, we made a decision, that’s what I wanted to do. So getting here was not easy. "

That event starting pool-play Monday and will wrap up Friday.

Copyright 2022 WJHG. All rights reserved.