Christmas came early for area children who were lucky enough to attend the 2012 Play with the Pros event Dec. 22 at the Avanti's Dome in Pekin.
"It's exciting," Cleveland Indians pitcher and Illinois Valley Central graduate Zach McAllister said. "It's great to give back to the community that supports you and to help out that community. It's always a good feeling."
The clinic, which began in 2009, benefits the Peoria Christian Center.
McAllister said being on the teaching side rather than the playing side is a unique experience for him.
"It's definitely different," McAllister said. "I'd much rather be on the playing side, but it's nice to help out and to give back."
Tampa Bay Rays' player Ben Zobrist and his former teammate Brian Shouse originally came up with the idea and the Christian Center has organized it each year.
During the 2012 clinic, 121 kids, in two sessions, got hands on help from pro players Zobrist, McAllister and Shouse as well as Jake Eigsti, a Eureka High School alumnus who was drafted by the New York Mets; Chad Johnson, a minor league player for the Kansas City Royals; Josh Parr, an IVC graduate and Arizona Diamondback minor leaguer and Rick Short, a 14-year veteran of professional baseball.
"I think the Peoria area has such a great amount of big leaguers that people really don't realize it," McAllister said. "It's very special for the kids to have them help them out.
"It's nice for me to see my friends from the big league or the minors and get a chance to talk to them and hear what they've been up to."
Attendees received lessons on pitching, hitting, fielding and various baseball techniques.
Those attending also got a shirt, gift bag, a baseball for an autograph session and a picture taken with the pros.
McAllister, coming off his first year as an established Major League player after earning a spot in the pitching rotation for the year in June, will battle for his starting job when he heads to spring training with the Indians in February in Goodyear, Ariz.
"I obviously want to do what I can to break camp with the team and stay there for the year," McAllister said. "I want to do whatever I can to help the team get wins. That's what it's all about."
During the 2012 season, McAllister went 6-8 in 22 starts with 110 strikeouts and a 4.24 earned run average.
"It's been a good offseason with the training I've put in," McAllister said. "I'm excited to get back and put my hard work into action."