It was a typical hot summer day at Nationals Park in Washington, DC, but the climbing temperatures did not faze the nearly 150 children who sat in Section 137 right next to the Nationals bullpen, anxiously waiting to step onto the field. Gloves in hand and bats at the ready, the young athletes would soon show off their newly-learned baseball skills to their friends and families – and to Nationals third baseman Ryan Zimmerman and his coaches, their role models and instructors for the day.

The Washington Nationals and Coca-Cola hosted the Live Positively: Get the Ball Rolling Baseball and Fit Clinic last month, a dream come true for many of these participants who were lucky enough to get a behind-the-scenes look at their favorite baseball team.

“We are honored to work with Coca-Cola to show local kids that baseball is a fun way to be active,” said Shawn Bertani, the Nationals senior director of community relations. “The earlier they understand the importance of physical activity and maintaining a balanced diet, the more likely they are to lead healthy and happy lives.”

For the young participants, many of which came from DC Parks and Recreation, it was all about learning the fundamentals of baseball. “My favorite part about today is Mr. Zimmerman talking and the batting cages,” said seven-year-old Robert Washington of Imagine Hope Community Charter School, whose excitement never dwindled as he proudly demonstrated the proper shuffling technique he learned.

The Nationals coaching staff helped the kids hone a variety of baseball skills, from learning the proper technique of fielding a ground ball to the fundamentals of base-running. But more importantly, they embraced the objective of the day – to educate local youth on how to maintain healthy lifestyles. With Zimmerman’s help, Coca-Cola launched this initiative four years ago for young athletes in all sports, instilling key lessons including teamwork, healthy eating, and daily activity.

“The goal of this clinic is to help young people throughout the greater Washington community recognize how important being physically active really is, not only as a professional athlete, as the participants today heard from Ryan Zimmerman himself, but just as a member of our community,” said Curtis Etherly, Jr., Coca-Cola’s director of public affairs and communications.

Under the guidance and instruction of the Nationals, the Get the Ball Rolling Baseball and Fit Clinic focused on teaching the young participants that “the same building blocks that professional athletes use to lead healthy lives, to perform at the best of their abilities, night in and night out, those are the same building blocks that they can apply to their own life at home,” Etherly said.

Zimmerman reinforced this message during a fun and educational question and answer session before taking on the Arizona Diamondbacks that evening. “I like ice cream. I like candy… Everyone likes to splurge now and then, which is okay,” said Zimmerman, who shared that the most valuable lesson he has learned from his professional baseball career is healthy eating and staying hydrated. “If you do that, just make sure you go out and exercise the next day and do something to balance that out.” Following the clinic, all of the children received backpacks with a Curly W and Live Positively logo before heading to an interactive lunch with the Racing Presidents.

It is now their turn to incorporate these invaluable exercise and nutrition lessons into their daily lives and spread their new-found knowledge to others. “Each one teaches one,” said Etherly, as he watched the local youth eagerly teach one another their new skills. “We hope to expand the experience and the spirit of Get the Ball Rolling… and today is just a start, just another step in that direction.”

By: Megan Schneider

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