Hoping to help increase player skills and raise the level of competition, former Major League Baseball player Julio Zuleta — a utilityman with experience playing infield, outfield and catcher positions during his 17-season career — will help conduct a baseball clinic for the next generation of aspiring big leaguers from the islands.
Zuleta and another former MLB star, Michael Tucker, will take part in the inaugural Sanibel-Captiva Baseball Clinic, scheduled to take place on Saturday, June 11 from 8:30 a.m. until noon at the Sanibel Baseball Fields.
"We're going to be teaching all sorts of baseball stuff," said Zuleta, a Fort Myers resident who operates Zuleta's Indoor Batting Cages, located at 11495 S. Cleveland Avenue. "What I like to teach is not just the fundamentals, the basics of the game, but a little bit of everything — batting, running, fielding, throwing."
Charles Phoenix, a Sanibel resident who is co-sponsoring the clinic, along with the Sanibel-Captiva Little League, suggested that Zuleta and Tucker come to the island to conduct a "skills development" seminar for local kids.
"For decades, our Little League has enjoyed a very unique experience — fans of both teams rooting for each other," said Phoenix. "As kids have advanced in their baseball careers, in the past, they've had to go off-island to get the kind of professional instruction that we're bringing to them now."
"The little league on the island is starting to become more competitive," added Zuleta. "What we want to do is help them get where they want to be."
After being signed at age 17-year-old as an amateur free agent by the Chicago Cubs organization, Zuleta spent his first seven seasons playing in the minors. He appeared in five All-Star Games, received two MVP Awards and was a Top 10 Prospect before being brought up to "The Show" in 2000. As a rookie, he played in
79 games with the Cubs, finishing the year with a .247 batting average, nine homers and 36 RBI.
Julio later joined the Boston Red Sox organization before launching a very successful career in the Nippon Professional Baseball League in Japan, where he was managed by baseball's all-time home run leader Sadaharu Oh.
Between 2004 and 2006, Julio played first base for the Fukuoka SoftBank Hawks and hit 109 round-trippers, more than any other player in Japan. During his pinnacle season in 2005, Zuleta batted .319 with 43 HR and 99 RBI, ranking second in each category in the league and received the Best 9 Award.
Earlier this year, Zuleta announced his retirement from professional baseball at age 36. During his 17-year career, he compiled a .286 batting average, drove in 1,060 runs and slammed 276 homers in 5,335 at-bats in more than 1,500 games.
During the Sanibel-Captiva Baseball Clinic, he promises to give instruction that will help not only develop a young player's baseball skills but teach lessons that will serve them well in their daily lives.
"What I like to tell kids is it's not all about baseball," said Zuleta. "It's important to get good grades in school and treat your parents with respect. When you do well in school, you'll do well in life."
As a youngster, Zuleta recalled that he most admired Hall of Famer Rod Carew, a fellow native of Panama who played for the Minnesota Twins and California Angels. Carew was an 18-time All-Star and 1977 American League MVP who batted .328 during his career.
"He hit the ball better than anybody in the game," Zuleta said. "I still can't believe that he won seven batting titles in a row."
Campers are requested to arrive early at the clinic and be ready to start at 8:30 a.m. They should bring with them a bat, glove, helmet and plenty of water.
Cost to attend the June 11 clinic is $25 in advance or $35 on the day of the event. To register or for more information, contact Kim Alexander (472-0004 or Kim@PfeifferRealtyGroup.com) or Cindy Lastovica (461-0101 or CL@CorporationCounsel.com).
Zuleta will be joined by fellow MLB alum Michael Tucker, a former outfielder who played with the Royals, Braves, Reds, Cubs, Giants, Phillies and Mets. In his career, Tucker compiled a .256 batting average with 125 home runs and 528 RBI. Most notably, he hit the first homer in the history of Turner Field in Atlanta, Ga. on April 4, 1997.
Asked what the best advice a fellow player ever gave him, Zuleta explained, "Baseball is a game of failure. You fail much more than you succeed. But if you get a hit in only 30 percent of your at bats, you're a success. You have to take the game for what it is."
Later this summer, on Friday, July 8 and Friday, Aug. 5, young baseball players and their families are invited to gather for a skills clinic (6 to 7 p.m.) as well as a "family" baseball game and cookout (7 to 8:30 p.m.). Both events, which will be held at the Sanibel Baseball Fields, are free to attend.
Former Major League Baseball player Julio Zuleta, shown here handing out awards during the Sanibel Little League Jamboree on May 14, will conduct a baseball clinic on the island on June 11. He will be joined by fellow MLB alum Michael Tucker.
Fact BoxTo Go
Sanibel-Captiva Baseball Clinic
Saturday, June 11
8:30 a.m. to noon
Sanibel Baseball Fields
$25 in advance
$35 day of event
Kim Alexander, 472-0004
Cindy Lastovica, 461-0101