By T. Scott Boatright
Ruston native and College Baseball Hall of Famer Wilbert Ellis is almost considered baseball royalty in north Louisiana.
And this year Ellis said two more hardball kings – former MLB pitcher Lee Smith and 1973 National League (NL) Batting Champ Ralph Garr – will be featured participants at the 2023 Ellis Baseball Clinic, which will be held from 8 a.m. – 2 p.m. on July 29.
The Ellis Baseball Clinic, an event free to attend for youth from ages 4-15, not only teaches hardball fundamentals and skills. It also focuses on teaching youth about the game of life and the importance of things such as staying in school and completing their education, becoming good and productive citizens and leaders, and learning how to stay safe and healthy.
Ellis’ camp will be held at Ruston’s Fraser Field on Martin Luther King Jr. Dr., where Ellis played hardball as a youth himself.
“This is something that’s always been near and dear to my heart, and getting to bring it back last year after missing the pandemic years was almost a fountain of youth for me, so I want to keep that going,” Ellis said. “Giving back to the community and especially our youth is something I love doing and that’s the reason all of the wonderful people who help conduct the clinic keep coming back and giving up their time – our youth are our future and they’re worthy committing our time to in order to try to help them think about and learning to become the best they can be.”
Ellis was an assistant under Grambling President/Coach Ralph Waldo Emerson Jones for 17 seasons before taking over as head coach in 1978 and guiding the Tigers to eight divisional championships, three Southwestern Athletic Conference championships and five NCAA regional appearances while amassing a record of 740-462-1 over 26 seasons.
But even after retiring Ellis never gave up the game, holding his annual youth baseball clinics in conjunction with the College World Series in Omaha, Nebraska, and bringing a version to those clinics here to Ruston.
A member of the Grambling Legends and Atlanta Braves Baseball Halls of Fame, Garr, who grew up in Ruston, Garr is a former professional baseball player, scout, and coach.
He played the MLB as an outfielder from 1968 – 1980 — most notably as a member of the Atlanta Braves — and eventually with the Chicago White Sox and California Angels.
Garr’s career year was as a Brave in 1974 when he was a NL All-Star and won the NL batting title with a league best .353 average while also leading the NL in hits (214) and triples (17).
Smith, who also grew up in north Louisiana – in Castor – played 18 years in the MLB for eight teams. Serving mostly as a relief pitcher during his career, he was a dominant closer, was the first pitcher to reach 400 saves, and held the major league record for career saves from 1993 until 2006, when Trevor Hoffman passed his total of 478.
He was elected to the National Baseball Hall of Fame as part of the class of 2019 by the Today’s Game Era Committee.
This year’s Ellis Baseball Clinic will also feature instructors including GSU Baseball Coach Davin Pierre and his staff; GSU softball coach Nakeya Hall; Ruston native James Maryland, a former Southern University player; Ruston native and former MLB pitcher George Stone, and former GSU/Major League baseball players such as John Lewis, Ronnie Lewis, Ira Truell, Gary Eave and Bobby Dupree; former GSU baseball player Arthur Herbert and longtime GSU supporters and community leaders Willie Washington and Eddie Robinson III.
“This camp is something I need to do, especially because it’s something I know the kids want and need,” Ellis said. “And that’s why all the volunteers come out and help. We make it a free clinic because we want as many youth who want to come out to join us.”
Campers will receive a free Clinic T-shirt as well as being served a hot dog/hamburger lunch.
Registration for the camp (which will include T-ball for ages 4-7 as well as baseball for ages 8-15) will be held from 8-9 a.m. July 29 with the clinic itself beginning at 9 a.m. followed by lunch.
Those wishing to preregister for the camp can do so by seeing Ronnie Lyons at the Ruston Housing Authority Maintenance Office, or by calling 318-957-4741 or 318-278-9409.