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Mychal Givens finishes busy day at Orioles camp by coaching youth games and hosting pizza party

Mychal Givens rose with the sun and began his Saturday at Orioles camp. While his teammates drove south to a sparkling new spring training complex to open the exhibition season against the Atlanta Braves, he stayed back and threw a bullpen session.

He ended his day covered in dust and with a rewarding, frustrating look on his face that only a coach can wear.

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The Inner City Baseball Under-13 travel team he organizes and coaches had a doubleheader at a tournament in nearby Lakewood Ranch — and the team was crashing at the coach’s house for a pizza party before finishing the tournament Sunday.

“I don’t know too many people who play professional baseball and who are still doing this while they just had a game, or just practiced a couple hours ago,” said Ryan Fleming, Givens’ childhood friend who coaches the team with him. “He definitely puts these kids first. He’ll break his back just to see them smile and do what they’ve got to do.”

Givens, who was the Jackie Robinson Player of the Year at Plant High School when the Orioles drafted him in 2009, made it to the majors in 2015 and has been a bullpen mainstay ever since.

Once he reached the big leagues, he thought back on how significant an influence the professional players from the Tampa area were on him.

“I enjoy it,” he said. “I love it. I’m passionate. At the same time, I hope these kids can do this when they get older. That’s the thing that we’re missing in sports, the community service of athletes that I had growing up.

“Tino Martinez, Fred McGriff, Dwight Gooden, Gary Sheffield, Wade Boggs — so many big league players I got to look up to in the city of Tampa. Hopefully, I can give this opportunity to these kids, have someone to look up to, and see the things I’m trying to do for them and do for the community so they can give back when they get older, when they become whatever they become.”

The travel teams come under the umbrella of the Givens Back Foundation, which Givens formed in 2018 to provide the types of baseball opportunities he thought best served players trying to develop the right way.

Saturday’s games didn’t go ICB’s way, much to their coach’s frustration. The first game was one-sided, and they fought back in the second game after a long first inning to make it close. Givens was directing traffic with his defenders and quick to help his pitcher find the strike zone. When he had to correct someone too loudly, he always found them on the way into the dugout to follow up and help make it right next time.

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Janice Brill, whose son Kyle is on the team, said the message is always that they have to stay together and support each other.

“They’re young. They still make some mistakes. I think you’ll see between innings, especially when it’s an inning when there’s some errors, he’ll pull them aside and talk it through so they can learn," she said. "That’s the most important part. Not only are they playing and having fun, but they’re also learning.”

Both Brill and Joyce Hudge, whose great grandson Christopher has been playing for Givens for three years, also think there’s a benefit to his major league pedigree for the young players.

Hudge said Christopher has his own major league dreams and enjoys how Givens and Fleming tell the players that school comes first and try to focus on character in addition to baseball.

“Baseball is more like a bridge — it brings everybody together,” Fleming said. “But it’s what you do off the field. We tell them that although they have a coach who is kind of in the one-percent, but when it comes to them playing baseball beyond high school, it goes down. Most of them, they just want to play high school ball. Some of them want to play college. Some of them want to play professional baseball. Most people don’t make it, so use baseball to get you whatever you want.”

Baseball hardly feels secondary, though. Givens seemed a stickler for the fundamentals Saturday, emphasizing the proper way to slap a tag on a base runner and directing his fielders to where he thought they should be. When his pitcher had a tough first inning, Givens was giving cues to get him back on track and helped him warm up in ensuing innings.

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But sometimes, his major league mindset can surpass those fundamentals. Fleming said that he was showing the players where to set up to cut off throws from the outfield during a practice, but Givens thought the outfielders had strong enough arms that they could save the time and risk of a transfer and throw directly to the infield instead.

On the bases, ICB players are aggressive when other teams cut off their throws, as that slows up the play and allows them a better chance to advance.

“What I’ve found out is nine times out of 10, those things actually do benefit our team,” Fleming said.

Givens gathered the team after the second loss Saturday to break things down before many said goodbye to their parents and got ready for a memorable sleepover at Givens’ house in the Sarasota area.

He was quick to wrap up the baseball part — they were too talented to beat themselves in the way they had that day, he told them. But then, the important details. He double-checked that cheese and pepperoni pizza were good with everyone. He declared that they’d shower in order of jersey numbers to keep that process as simple as can be, and told them where to put their uniforms so he could wash them.

Givens and Fleming remember playing in these same tournaments in Lakewood Ranch and the fields around south Florida, and like the players they coach, will likely not remember the outcomes of those games for long.

Living a big league lifestyle for a night with their team, though, won’t quickly fade.

“Coaching these kids is giving them opportunities, and that’s the thing,” Givens said. “Opportunities to be kids and opportunities to learn and get better.”

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