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Ex-pro emphasizes the real game
Grayson Landeros lets one fly towards the plate during the Jammin James Pitching Clinic in Lathrop on Saturday.
LATHROP – For some strange reason, the days of playing baseball simply for fun and to crack smiles have been replaced with $300 bats and Major League Baseball expectations as early as coach-pitch. That’s probably why rolling into James Matas’ free pitching clinic was so refreshing.

Jammin’ James Matas was once part of a major league baseball organization and worked at striking out professional hitters. Striking someone out with his 94 mph fastball was what Matas once lived for. Now his goal is to relay a simple message.

The message is clear. He didn’t get into the mechanics of strike zones or why you shouldn’t walk leadoff hitters. His message was along a different line that will usually dictate success and failure.

“The most important thing today are these kids right here,” Matas said gesturing to the long line of clinic participants. “[It is] about teaching them to say no to alcohol and drugs. That is what made my career very short, and today with me being clean and sober for 12 years, I have an opportunity to give back to the community.”

That community consisted of kids from Lathrop, Manteca, Stockton and a few other areas. The kids ranged from the little 4-year-old to the teen about ready to try out for a high school squad.

There were boys and girls alike, some tossing strikes up to the plate with ease and some struggling with that split-second where you separate the ball from the glove – before the throw.

It didn’t take anytime at all before the group of young players were calling Matas “Coach”. It was obvious he cares, taking a moment to go over a pitching motion with nearly each of the players.

Matas has been able to touch more than just future hurlers over his camp’s history, getting the backing of the Lathrop Rotary Club, who Matas dedicated the clinic to. Rotary’s involvement was essential, providing balls and the diamond, on top of preparing a full-course lunch for the players after the session.

“I had a dear friend who really opened up the door for the Lathrop Rotary Club for me,” Matas said. “Every since then they have sponsored me and been dedicated to this thing just like I have for the last five years.”

There were life lessons like falling from the sky left and right from the former pro ball player. “The most important thing is you guys telling me the truth”, he admitted to the players during a discussion.

Each kid has his or her moment - some for 10 seconds and some for a full minute. Yet, for each and every ball player that showed up to Jammin James’ 2011 Pitching Clinic, they will know for sure that baseball, and pitching especially, is about a lot more than balls and strikes.