Cameron signs autographs for pupils prior to his talk on Thursday.
WILLIAMSTOWN, Mass. — Retired professional pitcher Ryan Cameron was back in Williamstown on Thursday to share some life lessons with the third- through sixth-graders at Williamstown Elementary School.
But when he opened the floor to questions, the first one he received looked to be a little off topic.
"How much money did you make?" asked the first child he called upon.
The career .119 hitter handled the curveball with aplomb.
"That's a good question," Cameron said, before quickly turning it around.
While we tend to hear about today's Major League Baseball players in terms of the size of their contracts, that is not the kind of thinking that got them those contracts, he explained to the kids.
"For a long time, they played for no money and loved what they were doing," he said. "It's about passion. Play as long as you can. Be a kid. The money will take care of itself."
The North Adams native and Mount Greylock Regional School and University of Massachusetts graduate told the youngsters that he was once just where they were. Although the school they attend was not built yet, he learned the game of baseball on the grounds where it now stands, he told the kids.
He learned the game well enough to earn a scholarship to UMass and be drafted by the Colorado Rockies in the 11th round of the 1998 June draft. He played for 10 seasons in organizations of the Rockies, Red Sox, Phillies and Marlins, making the 40-man roster in Colorado and Boston.
Each of the children in the room has the potential to be a doctor, a lawyer, a gymnast or a big league pitcher, Cameron said.
They just have to figure out their passion in life and devote themselves to it.
"Talent only takes you as far as you're willing to refine it and work at it," Cameron said. "As you continue to move up levels [in professional baseball], talent is less and less important. It's more about consistency and effort."
That effort does not stop even after you reach the highest level of whatever career you pursue.
"As you sit here at 2:30 on a Thursday afternoon, [Boston Red Sox right fielder] Mookie Betts and [Yankees shortstop] Didi Gregorius are at the ballpark now," Cameron said. "They're lifting. They're running. They're taking ground balls. They're getting ready to give you a good show at 7 p.m."
He told the kids that as they pursue their passion, they will run into obstacles. He did, and Cameron admitted to getting discouraged, especially early in his minor league career, when he posted an earned run average of 16 in his first 10 professional innings pitched.
"Fortunately, I ran into a lot of people as I moved up who taught me about perseverance," he said. "And when I did all these things and committed to a process, good things happened."
The school's physical education teacher Sue Kirby, who invited Cameron to speak to the pupils, asked him to talk about his experience overcoming frustration as a young ballplayer.
"I'd get discouraged, I'd get down on myself," he said. "But as you get older, you realize that the biggest thing you need to be a success is confidence. And when you've done the work, you are confident.
"I came to realize it wasn't about what I did wrong. It's about learning from what I did and getting better."
Some of the questions from the children were strictly baseball related, like what pitches he threw ("pretty much fastball, change-up, but I'd throw a curve every now and then") or his favorite game as a pro (starting for the Rockies in the 2002 Hall of Fame exhibition game against the Chicago White Sox at Doubleday Field in Cooperstown, N.Y.).
Some of the kids, being kids, wanted to know what teams the former big leaguer roots for himself.
To the delight of about half the room in this border town, Cameron told them that while he grew up in Massachusetts and played for the Red Sox organization, he also grew up a Yankees fan and maintains that allegiance as a resident of the Albany, N.Y., area.
When he was traded from Colorado to Boston in 2003, it took a moment for the news to sink in, he said.
"Then I called my dad, and I said, 'Dad, I've got good news and bad news,' " Cameron said. " 'The good news is I'm moving back east. The bad news is I'm with the Red Sox.'
"He paused for a long moment. And then he finally said, 'I guess I can do that for a few years.' "
Cameron said he got his dad an assortment of Red Sox apparel that his father grudgingly wore in support of his son's team.
"Since the day I left Boston as a free agent, no one has seen all the Red Sox gear I got my dad."
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