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Youth Baseball

Padres host PLAY Campaign event at Petco

Richard, training staff educate children on staying active, making healthy lifestyle choices
MLB.com

SAN DIEGO -- The energy was up early at Petco Park on Thursday morning as members of the Padres' training staff teamed up with the PLAY Campaign and multiple other organizations to host a youth event promoting activeness and involvement.

The PLAY Campaign -- designed in 2004 to promote healthy lifestyle choices and the inclusion of disabilities -- made its annual stop in San Diego and teamed up with the Padres' training staff, the Ruderman Family Foundation, the National Down Syndrome Society, the Taylor Hooton Foundation and the Henry Schein Cares Foundation. In 2014, PLAY became the first program in professional sports to include children with disabilities.

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SAN DIEGO -- The energy was up early at Petco Park on Thursday morning as members of the Padres' training staff teamed up with the PLAY Campaign and multiple other organizations to host a youth event promoting activeness and involvement.

The PLAY Campaign -- designed in 2004 to promote healthy lifestyle choices and the inclusion of disabilities -- made its annual stop in San Diego and teamed up with the Padres' training staff, the Ruderman Family Foundation, the National Down Syndrome Society, the Taylor Hooton Foundation and the Henry Schein Cares Foundation. In 2014, PLAY became the first program in professional sports to include children with disabilities.

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Since its founding nearly 15 years ago, PLAY has conducted more than 300 events. The group formed in partnership with the Professional Baseball Athletic Trainers Society, hoping to highlight the dangers of poor health habits and childhood obesity.

Dozens of children from all ages participated in the event, which opened with remarks from the Padres' training staff regarding healthy eating choices, the importance of taking care of your body and the dangers of performance-enhancing drugs such as steroids. The participants then spent the next few hours at different stations designed to promote exercise. Stations included relay races, obstacle courses, baseball fundamentals such as throwing and catching, and a game using plastic balls and bats.

"[We] bring a lot of what we do -- the messaging, information and some of the education we provide our players -- to the rest of our communities," said Padres head trainer Mark Rogow. "It really doesn't matter how old they are, if they're really active, not so active, or they're disabled. We feel like we have something we can bring to everyone. It's awfully nice to spend quality time with them at our home, our ballpark, and bring them on the field to show them what it's like to be active, and why you should stay active and have a healthy lifestyle."

The morning was highlighted by an appearance from Padres pitcher Clayton Richard, who is a member of the Taylor Hooton Foundation advisory board. The Taylor Hooton Foundation is designed to educate young athletes about the dangers of using performance-enhancing drugs.

Richard spoke to the participants and their parents about the importance of staying active and busy in their youth, stressing that the lessons they learn through being a part of an organization can stay with them for life.

"With school, athletics or music -- if you learn a work ethic through those, that's going to carry over to whatever [you] want to do," Richard said. "That's the beautiful thing about youth athletics, is establishing a work ethic and seeing that hard work makes you better, and realizing that transfers into life."

Richard capped off the event by signing autographs and taking photos with every participant in attendance.

"Staying active for as long as they can, it's a huge advantage for the rest of your life," he said.

Katie Woo is a reporter for MLB.com based in San Diego. Follow her on Twitter @katiejwoo.

San Diego Padres, Clayton Richard

Astros RBI wins softball division championship

MLB.com

MINNEAPOLIS -- As Rayna Davis crossed home plate and waded through a mob of ecstatic teammates, she looked toward the sky and let out a scream.

Davis had just delivered the biggest hit of her life, and she knew this lead was a permanent one.

MINNEAPOLIS -- As Rayna Davis crossed home plate and waded through a mob of ecstatic teammates, she looked toward the sky and let out a scream.

Davis had just delivered the biggest hit of her life, and she knew this lead was a permanent one.

Davis crushed a massive three-run homer in the fifth inning on Thursday afternoon to put the finishing touch on a historic Houston Astros RBI victory. The Astros topped Rays RBI Tampa, 9-1, at Jane Sage Cowles Stadium to capture their first Reviving Baseball in Inner Cities (RBI) World Series softball title in program history.

Video: RAYS@HOU: Rayna Davis launches a 3-run home run

"I was just like, 'Get out, ball! Get out!'" Davis said. "We held [Tampa] until the fourth inning, and then we just got on a roll and kept going."

Shortly after Davis' homer, which gave Houston a 7-1 lead, Jaelyn Simmons drilled a double off the left-field wall to score T'Mayria Williams. That pushed the Astros' advantage to eight runs and activated the fifth-inning run rule, ending the game.

Houston starter Jenika Lombrana earned Most Valuable Player honors for the championship game after tossing a complete game and holding the Rays to one earned run on three hits. Over the seven-game tournament, Lombrana tallied a 1.61 ERA.

"It feels really good," Lombrana said. "I knew my team was backing me up, so I was pretty confident. But now, all of our hard work pays off."

The Astros loaded the bases in the first inning and plated a run to take an early lead. But the Rays battled back to tie the game in the third when Ah-Nayia Oglesby reached safely on a two-out bunt single and scored Alexis Smith-Ewing from third.

Houston broke the game open and scored three times in the third, though, and an inning later, Bryanna Bell and Tijah Coleman drew back-to-back walks to set up Davis' game-changing homer.

"That was just the cherry on top," Lombrana said. "I knew Rayna is capable of doing great things like that. That just gave us so much momentum; we wanted to get the run rule so we could go back to Houston and celebrate."

Even though they never trailed on Thursday, Houston's road to the title wasn't a smooth one. They went 2-2 in pool play over the first three days of the World Series, which left them in last place in the American League.

That meant when knockout play began on Wednesday, Houston was tasked with facing No.1-seed Puerto Rico RBI in a win-or-go-home scenario. They delivered a 7-4 upset victory, though, and then cruised past Harrisburg RBI in the semifinals Wednesday afternoon to earn a spot in the championship game.

"Coming in as a four-seed facing a one-seed, the cards are always stacked against you," Hays said. "But these girls had all the heart."

In 2017, the Astros arrived at the RBI World Series with a loaded roster, but they lost their playoff opener and were bounced out of the tournament early. Hayes, who was on maternity leave and didn't travel with the team last summer, knew that this year's group had a chance to be special.

"Definitely [Lombrana] coming in and pitching the way she did this year really helped out," Hays said. "She's really dominant on the mound. Also, I think the girls came back this year and I think they just really wanted it a whole lot more, because they didn't make it as far last year."

For the past few days, the Astros have had a bit of celebrity support behind them. Before Wednesday's quarterfinal game, a few of the Houston players' parents ran into MTV star Emmanuel Hudson at a Minneapolis restaurant and explained that their daughters were playing in a big tournament. Hudson immediately jumped on the Astros' bandwagon.

Tweet from @Emanhudson: We going to the ship!!!!! Aye! We going to the ship! https://t.co/vOtK2e0Bun

"I think that pretty much set us up for the next three games," Hays joked.

Jarrid Denney is a reporter for MLB.com based in Minneapolis.

Houston Astros

New England's Wilkins wins Virtual HR Derby

MLB.com

The New England team competing in the Little League World Series is likely hoping Aiden Wilkins can replicate the power he displayed in the first LLWS Virtual Home Run Derby Tournament presented by DICK'S Sporting Goods, as Wilkins ran away to a commanding win over Japan's Yuta Shimizu in the final of four rounds on Wednesday.

Wilkins, who hit six homers in the video game event and compiled a score of 5,415, was the New England representative in the 16-team bracket, which included one player from each of the participating LLWS teams. The score was compiled using the distance of fair balls plus a streak bonus and target multipliers.

The New England team competing in the Little League World Series is likely hoping Aiden Wilkins can replicate the power he displayed in the first LLWS Virtual Home Run Derby Tournament presented by DICK'S Sporting Goods, as Wilkins ran away to a commanding win over Japan's Yuta Shimizu in the final of four rounds on Wednesday.

Wilkins, who hit six homers in the video game event and compiled a score of 5,415, was the New England representative in the 16-team bracket, which included one player from each of the participating LLWS teams. The score was compiled using the distance of fair balls plus a streak bonus and target multipliers.

Wilkins and Shimizu went back-and-forth in an exciting final round, which fans can get a glimpse of during a special highlight recap show slated to air on ESPN on Sunday at 4:30 p.m. ET. The entire championship tournament aired live on ESPN3 and the ESPN app, and was hosted by MLB Network's Alexa Datt, with analysis from popular gamers and content creators RealShelfy and Fuzzy.

Here is a list of the participating contestants from Wednesday:

United States
Ryan Henderson (Great Lakes; Grosse Pointe Woods, Mich.)
Jansen Kenty (Southeast; Peachtree City, Ga.)
George Kugle (Southwest; Houston, Texas)
Braeden Newby (Northwest; Coeur d'Alene, Idaho)
Hunter Nishina (West; Honolulu, Hawaii)
Frank Scerra (Mid-Atlantic; Staten Island, N.Y.)
Brody Watson (Midwest; Des Moines, Iowa)
Aiden Wilkins (New England; Coventry, R.I.)

International
Ji Hyung Choi (Asia-Pacific; Seoul, South Korea)
Fynn Komulainen (Australia; Gold Coast, Queensland)
Colten Myers (Canada; Surrey, British Columbia)
Yadiel Delgado (Caribbean; Guayama, Puerto Rico)
Toni Cortes (Europe & Africa; Barcelona, Spain)
Yuta Shimizu (Japan; Kawaguchi, Japan)
Brian Villarreal (Latin America; Arraijan, Panama)
Angel Martinez (Mexico; Matamoros, Tamaulipas)

The VR technology features a 360-degree high-resolution visualization reflecting ballparks that have been re-created, with participants swinging just as if they were in an actual batter's box. For the tournament, each of the participating Little League players were given 90 seconds to hit as many home runs as possible.

The VR Home Run Derby is yet another way Major League Baseball continues its efforts to engage and have an impact on young audiences. Beginning Thursday, fans of all ages attending the LLWS will have the opportunity to step into the virtual batter's box at Nationals Park and compete using the same technology that the contestants from Wednesday's event used. It will be open to the public during the open hours of PLAY BALL Park and the DICK'S Sporting Goods activation within the Family Fun Zone from Thursday through Aug. 23.

Daniel Kramer is a reporter for MLB.com based in Denver. Follow him on Twitter at @DKramer_.

Orioles release Valencia from contract

MLB.com

BALTIMORE -- Five days after designating him for assignment, the Orioles have released Danny Valencia from his contract. The infielder is now a free agent and can sign with any team.

Valencia, a nine-year veteran in his second stint with Baltimore, was one of the most consistent contributors in the lineup once he took over as the everyday third baseman after Tim Beckham went on the disabled list with a left groin strain on April 25. Valencia owned a .292 batting average on June 27, but that began to drop off by the time he lost playing time and consistent at-bats with the return of Beckham and the O's acquisition of infielder Jonathan Villar

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BALTIMORE -- Five days after designating him for assignment, the Orioles have released Danny Valencia from his contract. The infielder is now a free agent and can sign with any team.

Valencia, a nine-year veteran in his second stint with Baltimore, was one of the most consistent contributors in the lineup once he took over as the everyday third baseman after Tim Beckham went on the disabled list with a left groin strain on April 25. Valencia owned a .292 batting average on June 27, but that began to drop off by the time he lost playing time and consistent at-bats with the return of Beckham and the O's acquisition of infielder Jonathan Villar

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The Orioles could not find a suitable trade partner for Valencia, but the utility infielder may be an attractive signing as a bench piece for a contender, as he owns a .303 batting average against lefties in 2018 and .312 for his career.

"I'd be surprised if they don't [pick him up]," Orioles manager Buck Showalter said. "There will be some interest now that that's kind of flushed out. I'll be surprised if Danny isn't playing again shortly for somebody."

Zachary Silver is a reporter for MLB.com based in Baltimore. Follow him on Twitter at @zachsilver.

Baltimore Orioles, Danny Valencia

Shred Hate program gains 5 new MLB teams

Angels, Dodgers, Phillies, Pirates, Rangers join initiative to end bullying
MLB.com

Five new Major League Baseball clubs will support the Shred Hate initiative -- an innovative program striving to end bullying in schools and communities by encouraging youth to choose kindness -- MLB, ESPN and X Games announced on Wednesday.

The Angels, Dodgers, Phillies, Pirates and Rangers are the latest teams to join the Cubs, White Sox, Twins and Nationals as Shred Hate clubs in the effort to prevent bullying. Select schools in club markets will use the No Bully methodology that has remediated more than 90 percent of bullying incidents since Shred Hate's launch in January 2017.

Five new Major League Baseball clubs will support the Shred Hate initiative -- an innovative program striving to end bullying in schools and communities by encouraging youth to choose kindness -- MLB, ESPN and X Games announced on Wednesday.

The Angels, Dodgers, Phillies, Pirates and Rangers are the latest teams to join the Cubs, White Sox, Twins and Nationals as Shred Hate clubs in the effort to prevent bullying. Select schools in club markets will use the No Bully methodology that has remediated more than 90 percent of bullying incidents since Shred Hate's launch in January 2017.

No Bully is a nonprofit that trains schools how to activate student compassion to eradicate bullying and cyberbullying. The organization will work directly through Shred Hate and local school districts in Los Angeles, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh and Dallas. This is in addition to existing Shred Hate schools in Chicago, Colorado, Minneapolis/St. Paul and Washington, D.C.

In a study by the Centers for Disease Control and the U.S. Department of Education, nearly one in four students -- more than 10 million total students -- report being bullied each year in the United States. Thanks to the five MLB club additions to the Shred Hate program, nearly 60,000 students will be reached in the 2018-19 academic year.

"Shred Hate has been an extraordinary opportunity for baseball to use our considerable platform and positively influence the lives of young people where our teams play," said MLB vice president and special assistant to the Commissioner Billy Bean. "The courageous stories shared by some of the students participating in the Shred Hate program, and who have been affected by this epidemic, inspire us to multiply our efforts.

"We are incredibly thankful to our clubs who have stepped forward in support of this initiative as we continue to grow an inclusive and accepting culture throughout every level of our sport."

Two new Shred Hate modules were developed to roll out this academic school year in an effort to impact afterschool and summer programs, as well as student athletes and coaches. Courtesy of the No Bully System in-school curriculum, 20- to 30-minute lessons are available to download here. In addition, student athletes will learn how to be upstanders and lead schools in their bullying prevention efforts with the help of multimedia platforms and public service announcements from MLB players.

MLB will host a social-media driven Shred Hate activation at the Little League Classic presented by GEICO beginning on Thursday in Williamsport, Pa. The activation looks to raise awareness about bullying and the Shred Hate initiative among the thousands of kids and parents attending the event. Look for them at MLB's Play Ball Park at the Little League International complex during the tournament.

"Shred Hate is stopping bullying at unprecedented rates," said ESPN vice president of corporate citizenship Kevin Martinez. "We're excited to expand on this success and bring the program into more schools, while raising awareness on this critical issue using the incredible reach and platforms of MLB, its clubs and X Games."

Deesha Thosar is a reporter for MLB.com based in New York City. Follow her on Twitter at @DeeshaThosar.

Texas Rangers, Philadelphia Phillies, Pittsburgh Pirates, Los Angeles Dodgers, Los Angeles Angels

RBI teams meet with inspiring pro sports women

Roundtable discussion offered opportunity for stories, advice, support
MLB.com

MINNEAPOLIS -- With a group of Houston Astros RBI softball players gathered around her, listening intently, Chelsea Lowman passionately implored the athletes to chase their dreams.

"Whatever you're passionate about right now, don't lose that as an adult," said Lowman, Senior Coordinator of Community Relations for the Minnesota Timberwolves and Minnesota Lynx.

MINNEAPOLIS -- With a group of Houston Astros RBI softball players gathered around her, listening intently, Chelsea Lowman passionately implored the athletes to chase their dreams.

"Whatever you're passionate about right now, don't lose that as an adult," said Lowman, Senior Coordinator of Community Relations for the Minnesota Timberwolves and Minnesota Lynx.

On Tuesday afternoon, Lowman, along with seven other women who have forged successful careers in the world of professional sports, gathered to share their stories and provide advice. As part of the Reviving Baseball in Inner Cities (RBI) World Series, the group of speakers met with teams participating in the tournament in a roundtable format and fielded questions from players, all age 13-18.

They're hoping that by doing so, they will be able to assist the next generation in breaking through in their own career paths.

"I love meeting athletes like this," said Lea B. Olsen, a Minnesota-based sports broadcaster who played basketball at the University of Minnesota. "It's a really super-rare opportunity to have groups of young women traveling around the country while they're learning so many different things. I like to just remind them of the skillsets they are learning that can help them beyond sports, for their entire lives."

In order to give the athletes more face-to-face time and the ability to ask questions, the speakers met and chatted with each team for 15 minutes at a time before rotating to the next team.

"Talking to young women is always really inspiring to me," Lowman said. "They had some really great questions. They weren't always business related. So that was kind of neat to hear even some of their personal questions. Just about work-life balance, how I got to where I am. … They were all great questions for developing young ladies."

Lowman hoped to not only provide a rough outline for how she has achieved career success, but also give networking tips and advice that she wishes somebody had given her when she was in high school.

"I didn't have anyone tell me that," Lowman said. "I'm thankful that I have a personality that's kind of go-getter. But that was definitely something that I wanted to share with them. I'm here today because I reached out to one person when I was 19, and she took a chance on me. Now, here I am."

The RBI program is an MLB youth initiative designed to provide young people from underserved and diverse communities the opportunity to play baseball and softball. The program is in its 26th year, and this year's softball tournament, hosted by the Twins, is the 24th iteration.

The roundtable lasted 90 minutes, and players had the chance to meet with professionals from a number of different areas of the pro sports world. Afterward, players and coaches headed off to Target Field to watch the Twins take on the Pittsburgh Pirates.

Anne Doepner, Director of Football Administration for the Minnesota Vikings, and MLB Coordinator of Business Communications Kerline Batista both discussed their career paths.

Brit Minder, coordinator of amateur scouting for the Minnesota Twins, and Brea Hinegardner, the Twins' digital content manager, gave insight into different facets of the professional baseball world.

Laura Day, Executive Vice President and Chief Business Officer for the Twins, is in her 22nd year working with the Twins and oversees the club's revenue generating efforts. She praised RBI's efforts to help players meet with women who have a myriad of experiences in different fields.

"Having the opportunity to give back and share my knowledge of what works and what doesn't -- I only wish I could have had that when I was their age," Day said.

Jarrid Denney is a reporter for MLB.com.

Rangers to co-host first States Play tournament

Top players from California, Texas to participate in inaugural event
MLB.com

A tournament pitting players against each other from the two states that typically produce among the highest volume of Major League talent will come to fruition in two weeks, as Major League Baseball announced on Tuesday the inaugural States Play tournament, which will showcase some of the top rising seniors from Texas and California over a three-game series at Globe Life Park in Arlington from Aug. 24-26. The Rangers are co-hosting the event, and rosters were selected by MLB and USA Baseball.

Adding to the fabric of what MLB hopes will be a highly successful and potentially long-term tournament will be Major League representation on hand from both California and Texas, most notably through coaching. Jerry Manuel, Homer Bush, Royce Clayton, Ken Hill, Gerald Laird, Darren Oliver and Andy Stankiewicz will be on hand to serve as coaches for the teams.

A tournament pitting players against each other from the two states that typically produce among the highest volume of Major League talent will come to fruition in two weeks, as Major League Baseball announced on Tuesday the inaugural States Play tournament, which will showcase some of the top rising seniors from Texas and California over a three-game series at Globe Life Park in Arlington from Aug. 24-26. The Rangers are co-hosting the event, and rosters were selected by MLB and USA Baseball.

Adding to the fabric of what MLB hopes will be a highly successful and potentially long-term tournament will be Major League representation on hand from both California and Texas, most notably through coaching. Jerry Manuel, Homer Bush, Royce Clayton, Ken Hill, Gerald Laird, Darren Oliver and Andy Stankiewicz will be on hand to serve as coaches for the teams.

Complete rosters

Rosters for each team will consist of players living in various parts of each state, most of which have already committed to some of the top college programs. Bobby Witt Jr., the middle infielder who has been touted by many as the top player in the 2019 Draft class, will be on the Texas roster. Witt is one of three States Play participants committed to Oklahoma, and rosters also include three commits apiece to UCLA, LSU and Texas A&M and five to Texas.

Video: HRD: Witt Jr. launches 8 HRs to win HS Home Run Derby

Many players have also been chosen to participate in other MLB/USA Baseball development-focused events, such as the Tournament of the Stars, the Breakthrough Series, the Elite Development Invitational, the DREAM Series and the Prospect Development Pipeline (PDP).

"We are excited to launch the States Play program with representation from two of our nation's most talent-rich baseball states," said Rick Riccobono, USA Baseball's chief development officer. "The creation of this event signifies our continued commitment to increasing our engagement in amateur programming. Together with MLB, we have never had more touchpoints to aspiring athletes within our game."

Tweet from @USABaseball: For the ultimate bragging rights between two 💪 baseball states. @MLB and USA Baseball bring you the inaugural ���States Play��� Tournament: https://t.co/wOcVsQukre pic.twitter.com/gM6rSvAMf6

All three games will air on MLB.com, with MLB Network's Daron Sutton calling play-by-play alongside former All-Star Tom "Flash" Gordon and MLB.com's Dani Wexelman, who will serve as color analyst and on-air reporter, respectively.

Here is the schedule for the three-game series, which will be free and open to the public:

• Friday, Aug. 24 at 5 p.m. CT
• Saturday, Aug. 25 at 7 p.m. CT
• Sunday, Aug. 26 at 11 a.m. CT

Throughout the weekend, each of the participating teams will have the chance to take part in morning training sessions from 9 a.m.-12 p.m. CT each day at the state-of-the-art Rangers MLB Youth Academy in West Dallas, Texas, which opened last December and is widely considered one of the top youth baseball facilities in the country, with regular engagement between the Rangers and the amateur players. The 17-acre site features five outdoor fields and the indoor Globe Life Training Center.

States Play participants will also have the opportunity to undergo PDP assessments, which have become a new way to ingratiate players' performance data to a wide range of scouts and colleges. At its essence, the PDP adds a layer of sophistication to simple drills by spitting out specialized data that helps players and coaches tailor players' development. Specific areas like performance vision screening, swing analysis and precise physical testing are examined.

The PDP is a collaborative effort between MLB, the MLB Scouting Bureau and USA Baseball that strives to help identify top high school players and create pathways for them to reach the Majors.

And that circles back to what the States Play tournament can blossom into. In recent years, particularly under Commissioner Rob Manfred, MLB has made a publicly conscious effort to engage young audiences.

"I think our youth programs are our most important initiative," Manfred said at the All-Star Game last month. "It's about our future in two respects. First of all, our game is compelling, because we have the greatest athletes in the world and we have to be out there competing and make sure that kids choose baseball so that we have great athletes for the future. But equally important, youth participation builds fans. If you play, you're much more likely to be a fan as an adult, so it's important for our business in the future."

Daniel Kramer is a reporter for MLB.com based in Denver. Follow him on Twitter at @DKramer_.

Texas Rangers

Astros RBI player pens 'Breaking Barriers' winner

Kayla Robinson's essay detailed challenges family faced after Harvey, Katrina
MLB.com

Astros RBI softball player Kayla Robinson has been named a winner of the Jackie Robinson "Breaking Barriers" Essay Contest, Major League Baseball announced on Monday. Robinson's win marks the second consecutive year that a member of the Astros RBI program has been selected as a winner of the contest.

"Kayla is a very special young lady," said Astros Youth Academy director Daryl Wade. "She was a little girl when we first opened the Academy, playing baseball with the boys, and was one of the better players. Once we got the softball program going, she worked hard to become one of our best. We are very proud of her."

Astros RBI softball player Kayla Robinson has been named a winner of the Jackie Robinson "Breaking Barriers" Essay Contest, Major League Baseball announced on Monday. Robinson's win marks the second consecutive year that a member of the Astros RBI program has been selected as a winner of the contest.

"Kayla is a very special young lady," said Astros Youth Academy director Daryl Wade. "She was a little girl when we first opened the Academy, playing baseball with the boys, and was one of the better players. Once we got the softball program going, she worked hard to become one of our best. We are very proud of her."

Robinson has been a member of the Astros Youth Academy since its opening in 2010. Robinson and her Astros RBI softball team are competing at the RBI World Series this week in Minneapolis. She was presented with a laptop by vice president of youth programs David James for her efforts.

For this annual contest -- a unique vision of Jackie Robinson's daughter, Sharon Robinson -- participants are asked to share obstacles or challenges they had to overcome in life. Kayla Robinson's entry, entitled "The Storm," is an emotional story of how she and her family have had to overcome the devastation and loss caused by Hurricane Harvey in 2017, Hurricane Katrina while living in Louisiana in 2005 and other storms. It is an uplifting account of how she has managed to draw the strength to find success, despite the obstacles. In the fall, Robinson will be attending Grambling State University, where she will play softball on a scholarship.

In 2017, another member of the Astros RBI program, Drevian Nelson, won the Jackie Robinson "Breaking Barriers" Essay Contest. Nelson's winning essay detailed how he managed to overcome the loss of his mother, who died of cancer when he was 10 years old. Nelson was selected in the 14th round of this year's Draft by the Angels, and he now plays in their Minor League system.

Deesha Thosar is a reporter for MLB.com based in New York City. Follow her on Twitter at @DeeshaThosar.

Houston Astros

Jennie Finch helps softball dreams come true

2004 gold medalist presents scholarships at RBI World Series banquet
MLB.com

ST. PAUL, Minn. -- When Kimberly Medina was growing up, her youth softball coach told her she should pick an idol to try to model her game after.

The choice was a simple one for Medina; Jennie Finch was one of the most dominant players in the sport at the time, and Medina wanted to learn to command her pitches with the same precision that Finch did.

ST. PAUL, Minn. -- When Kimberly Medina was growing up, her youth softball coach told her she should pick an idol to try to model her game after.

The choice was a simple one for Medina; Jennie Finch was one of the most dominant players in the sport at the time, and Medina wanted to learn to command her pitches with the same precision that Finch did.

On Sunday, during the opening banquet of the Reviving Baseball in Inner Cities (RBI) World Series, Medina had the chance to meet her hero. Finch was on hand at the banquet, and she presented a $1,000 scholarship to one player from each of the eight softball teams playing in the tournament.

Tweet from @MLBRBI: .@JennieFinch handing out scholarships at the #RBIWorldSeries! pic.twitter.com/G3O2Ebq4Ht

For Dream RBI out of Harlem, N.Y., that player was Medina.

"When I first heard my name, I was really shocked," Medina said. "I wasn't expecting anything. As soon as I saw her, I almost fell. I kind of squealed a little bit, because it was Jennie Finch, and she said my name."

Finch, who led the U.S. team to an Olympic gold medal in Athens in 2004 after a decorated collegiate career at the University of Arizona, awarded the scholarships to players in recognition of their values and character both on and off the field.

"After two years of doing the Breakthrough Series and [Elite Development Invitationals], you just come back so inspired," Finch said. "These young girls are doing so much and love the game with all their heart. With the hurdles that they're overcoming and adversity that they're facing, and to still show up with a smile on their face is just so inspiring.

"I want them to know that I see them and that their hard work isn't going unnoticed. I would love to help them pursue their next goal and dream, and that's playing in college. If I can do that, I would love to be a part of it and help them in their journey."

Finch was named Youth Softball Ambassador by Major League Baseball in January 2017, and she has been heavily involved with RBI as well as several of MLB's other outreach initiatives since.

On Monday, Finch and former softball superstar Natasha Watley were in attendance at Dunning Sports Complex to watch the second day of RBI World Series Pool Play.

With the duo watching on, Medina tossed five innings of one-run ball in a win over Rays RBI Tampa, though she did her best to treat it like just another game.

"I was like, I'm not only going to try to pitch well just because Jennie FInch is here," Medina, who in a few weeks will begin her collegiate career at the College of Mount Saint Vincent in the Bronx, said. "I'm going to do it for my teammates. I know how hard we all worked to be in this moment."

The RBI program is an MLB youth initiative designed to provide young people from underserved and diverse communities the opportunity to play baseball and softball. The program is in its 26th year, and this year's softball tournament, hosted by the Twins, is the 24th iteration.

"This is a family," Armana Ware, who was Tampa RBI's recipient of the scholarship, said of her teammates and coaches. They've helped me build character and build respect toward others and understand what a team really is about. Honestly, it's been amazing. It teaches me that there's so much to be grateful for in playing the game of softball."

Jarrid Denney is a reporter for MLB.com based in Minneapolis.

RBI Softball contenders arrive in Twin Cities

8 teams vying for title game Thursday at Univ. of Minnesota
MLB.com

MINNEAPOLIS -- The Reviving Baseball in Inner Cities (RBI) Softball World Series kicks off this weekend in Minneapolis-St. Paul, and eight teams will begin seeding games on Sunday as they aim to capture the 24th title in tournament history.

Of those eight teams, one has aspirations of taking home a title for the second straight year; Mathews-Dickey Boys & Girls Club RBI, which is based in St. Louis, won the 2017 championship in Cincinnati and will be in contention again this year.

MINNEAPOLIS -- The Reviving Baseball in Inner Cities (RBI) Softball World Series kicks off this weekend in Minneapolis-St. Paul, and eight teams will begin seeding games on Sunday as they aim to capture the 24th title in tournament history.

Of those eight teams, one has aspirations of taking home a title for the second straight year; Mathews-Dickey Boys & Girls Club RBI, which is based in St. Louis, won the 2017 championship in Cincinnati and will be in contention again this year.

Along with the Cardinals, Puerto Rico Aguadilla RBI, Cincinnati Reds RBI, Harrisburg RBI (Pennsylvania), DREAM RBI (Harlem, N.Y.), Rays RBI Tampa, Houston Astros RBI and Los Angeles Dodgers RBI all won their respective regional tournaments to qualify for the World Series.

Hosted by the Minnesota Twins this year, the RBI World Series is the international championship tournament of the RBI program, the MLB youth initiative designed to provide young people from underserved and diverse communities the opportunity to play baseball and softball.

"As a player, it was amazing. I loved it and wish that everyone got to experience it," said Dodgers coach Bree Simpson, who played in the tournament from 2006-08. "And now as a coach, I'm even more excited because I get to see the look on these girls' faces."

The Dodgers' softball program is making their first appearance in the tournament since winning back-to-back World Series titles in 2010 and '11. Puerto Rico won the World Region championship in Vero Beach, Fla., to qualify for the tournament for the second consecutive year.

Houston RBI won the Southwest Region to qualify for the tournament for the 16th consecutive time. The Astros return nine players from last year's team.

"I would say our previous teams have jelled pretty well, but this team is coming together extremely well," Astros coach Megan Hays said. "We only really started practicing together and getting ready for all of this three weeks ago."

The week will be jam-packed with plenty of game action, as well as various other activities. Tournament play will kick off at 8:30 a.m. CT Sunday at the Dunning Softball Fields in St. Paul. Later in the afternoon, players will have a chance to showcase their talent in front of scouts during Sunday's Workout Day at Jane Sage Cowles Stadium on the University of Minnesota campus.

On Tuesday, the players and coaches will attend a roundtable where they will meet with representatives of several of Minnesota's professional sports teams, including the Twins. Afterward, they will head to Target Field to watch the Twins take on the Pittsburgh Pirates.

The tournament semifinals will take place on Wednesday, and the championship game will be held Thursday at 9:30 a.m. at the University of Minnesota.

Even with the busy week ahead, many players were eager to get a workout in as soon as they touched down in Minnesota on Sunday.

"Trust me, these girls wanted to get a workout in," Simpson said. "As soon as we got here, they had their gloves and were like, 'Can we work on ground balls?' I've gotta get them to relax."

Jarrid Denney is a reporter for MLB.com based in Minneapolis.

Minnesota Twins

Padres team up with YMCA as kids Play Ball

High school stars help out in advance of All-American Classic
MLB.com

SAN DIEGO -- Dozens of children of all ages took over the Jackie Robinson Family YMCA in San Diego on Saturday to, simply, play ball.

Major League Baseball and the San Diego Padres held a special Play Ball event in collaboration with the 2018 Perfect Game All-American Classic, a showcase featuring the top high school baseball players in the country. The game, which will be held Sunday at Petco Park, will display 50 of the nation's best high school seniors. It is the 10th year the event has been held in San Diego.

SAN DIEGO -- Dozens of children of all ages took over the Jackie Robinson Family YMCA in San Diego on Saturday to, simply, play ball.

Major League Baseball and the San Diego Padres held a special Play Ball event in collaboration with the 2018 Perfect Game All-American Classic, a showcase featuring the top high school baseball players in the country. The game, which will be held Sunday at Petco Park, will display 50 of the nation's best high school seniors. It is the 10th year the event has been held in San Diego.

Saturday, however, the focus was on the kids rather the upcoming game, as the Perfect Game teamed up with the Jackie Robinson YMCA for the first time.

"This whole organization is about giving back to the community," said Manny Hermosillo, who has been involved with the Perfect Game organization for eight years. "I think it's awesome to get the kids involved, the youth and just helping out the community. The kids love it. They see the older guys there, and [it's] awesome being able to hang out with them."

Participants were divided into stations for batting practice, baserunning, agility and fielding. The stations, which used both baseballs and softballs, were designed to promote the informal and fun ways the sport can be played. Many participants arrived at the stations clad in Padres gear, along with the free shirt supplied prior to registering for the event. Players on the All-American Classic roster helped run the stations, along with volunteers from MLB, the Padres and the YMCA. Registration was free, and all participants at the Play Ball event received a ticket to the All-American Classic.

"This event is a win-win, all the way around," said Brad Clement, CEO of Perfect Game. "We have great communication with various departments at MLB about different things we can do to help grow the game.

"Just getting out, being active and playing ball is a lifelong memory. Plus, it's really what helps us build and create baseball fans for the next generation."

Sunday's festivities are scheduled to take place after the Padres' game vs. the Phillies (12:40 p.m. PT), approximately set for 5:15 p.m. The 50 players will square off in a nine-inning, East Coast vs. West Coast showdown. Tickets are $5 and all proceeds will benefit Rady Children's Hospital.

Since the event was founded in 2003, 187 participants have gone on to become first-round picks in the MLB Draft. Austin Hedges, Eric Hosmer and Robert Stock are current Padres who have participated in the event.

Katie Woo covers the Padres for MLB.com. Follow her on Twitter @katiejwoo.

San Diego Padres

Chicago tops Philly, heads to RBI Series final

White Sox to face Arizona on Friday; Phillies, Rays to meet in Junior Division championship
MLB.com

MINNEAPOLIS -- As David Barboza warmed up in the bullpen before Thursday's game, Chicago White Sox RBI's pitching coach, Vince Davis, watched his starting pitcher snap off a few curveballs before heading right back to the dugout. That was all he needed to see.

"His curveball is going to be disgusting today," Davis reported back to Chicago head coach Marcus Rodgers.

MINNEAPOLIS -- As David Barboza warmed up in the bullpen before Thursday's game, Chicago White Sox RBI's pitching coach, Vince Davis, watched his starting pitcher snap off a few curveballs before heading right back to the dugout. That was all he needed to see.

"His curveball is going to be disgusting today," Davis reported back to Chicago head coach Marcus Rodgers.

Barboza's curveball was indeed nearly unhittable as he handcuffed Philadelphia Phillies RBI all afternoon and led Chicago to an 11-5 semifinal win at Parade Stadium in the senior bracket of the Reviving Baseball in Inner Cities (RBI) World Series. Backed by a talented lineup that delivered five runs in both the fifth and sixth innings, the White Sox are headed to the World Series final and will face Arizona RBI at 11:30 a.m. ET on Friday at the University of Minnesota's Siebert Field.

"David was amazing," Rodgers said. "He's been like that the entire season. He gets up there and pounds the strike zone. That helps us a ton, because we don't have a ton of arms. We have some quality arms, we just don't have a ton of arms."

Barboza finished with six strikeouts over six innings, allowing just one hit and one earned run. He often used his fastball and changeup to get ahead in the count before coming back with a devastating backdoor curveball to finish off at-bats.

He's been crafting the pitch since he was 11 years old, and got help developing it -- as well as the rest of the pitching repertoire -- from his brother, Samson Barboza, who is two years older than him and also plays for the White Sox.

"My brother taught me, like, everything I know pitching-wise," David Barboza said. "He's been teaching me ever since I was young. He taught me my changeup and how to quick-pitch, like Johnny Cueto. That's what we're known for."

Over the first three innings, the younger Barboza held the Phillies hitless and registered the final out of each inning by striking a Philadelphia batter out looking. On all three occasions, he froze the opposing batter with a curveball.

"I've always been confident in my curveball," David Barboza said. "That's been my main pitch forever. I would always throw it in 3-2 counts and knew I could get a strike. I love being able to buckle somebody with it."

For the first four innings, Phillies starter Carter Davis kept the White Sox offense in check as well. He nearly escaped a third-inning jam unscathed when Philadelphia left fielder Alexander Johnson threw out a Chicago runner at the plate for the second out of the inning. But one batter later, Kendall Pettis doubled and scored Michael Bolton to give the White Sox a 1-0 lead.

In the fifth, Davis wasn't so lucky. With two outs and runners on first and second, he induced a popup that could have ended the inning. But a Philadelphia error allowed it to fall in shallow right field, and two White Sox runners came around to score to extend the lead to 3-0. The inning unraveled from there, and by the time the Phillies recorded the third out, it was 6-0.

Philadelphia got three runs back in the sixth as Barboza's pitch count reached the low 90s, but he stranded three more Phillies runners when he induced a bases-loaded groundout to end the inning.

The Phillies tacked on two more runs in the seventh, but at that point it was too little, too late to overcome Chicago's early offensive explosion. Bolton went 3-for-4 and scored three times, and Jeffrey Massey, Chicago's No. 9 hitter, went 3-for-3 with an RBI.

"That's a better team right there," Phillies' head coach Steve Bandura said. "That's a hell of a team. They hit up and down the lineup. They stay back on the curve; they're really well-coached and they're really good athletes. They deserve to be in the championship game."

Monday was a bit of a rivalry renewed for the two teams; Chicago and Philadelphia met in last summer's Junior Division RBI World Series final in Cincinnati. While not every player from that game was on the field on Thursday, both squads had a handful of players who had played in the title game.

"The Phillies got us in the championship game last year," Rodgers said. "A few of our guys were there for that, and they kind of had a bitter taste in their mouth. They wanted to come out and make sure that that didn't happen again."

Arizona RBI 10, Austin RBI 5 -- Siebert Field

Arizona clinched a spot in the final and will face off with the White Sox on Friday. Justin Flebbe launched a third-inning grand slam to bust the game open for Arizona, and Michael Quinones went 2-for-4 and scored twice. Alfred Worden III went 2-for-3 with three RBIs for Austin.

Junior Division semifinals
Phillies RBI 11, White Sox RBI 3 -- Neiman Athletic Complex

The Phillies and White Sox junior squads collided for a semifinal matchup as well, with the Phillies prevailing thanks to a quick start. Philadelphia tossed three runs on the board in both the first and second innings to put the game away early. Jonathan Batista went 3-for-3 with three RBIs and scored three times out of the cleanup spot. Karim Mullen tossed 5 1/3 innings of one-hit ball as he held Chicago scoreless. For the White Sox, Noah Smith and Zamaurion Hatcher each collected two hits, and Luke Hanson drove in two runs.

Tampa RBI 10, Arizona RBI 9 -- Neiman Athletic Complex

De'Mario Williams delivered a walk-off single in the bottom of the seventh to send the Rays to Friday's championship game. Williams' single scored Douglas Thompson and Dontavious Johnson. The big hit capped off a stellar game for Williams, who went 3-for-5 with three RBIs out of the leadoff spot. For Arizona, Alain Camou went 2-for-4 and drove home a pair of runs.

Jarrid Denney is a contributor to MLB.com

Rox's players touched by Fantasy Camp for Kids

'The way they look at life is the way we should look at life'
MLB.com

DENVER -- Seven-year-old Lily Spletzer didn't think she would hit the ball when it was her turn at the plate on Thursday morning. She told her mom, Makayla Allison, on the drive to Jason Jennings Adaptive Field that she didn't think she could.

But on the first pitch, Spletzer made contact. And not even Rockies outfielder Carlos Gonzalez could catch it. Spletzer beamed as she ran to first base.

DENVER -- Seven-year-old Lily Spletzer didn't think she would hit the ball when it was her turn at the plate on Thursday morning. She told her mom, Makayla Allison, on the drive to Jason Jennings Adaptive Field that she didn't think she could.

But on the first pitch, Spletzer made contact. And not even Rockies outfielder Carlos Gonzalez could catch it. Spletzer beamed as she ran to first base.

"I totally did not think I was going to hit that ball," Spletzer said with a smile on her face -- one that didn't go away all morning.

Splezter has Ehlers-Danlos syndrome, a connective-tissue disorder that forces her to wear knee braces when she participates in activities. On Thursday, she sported her hot pink braces as she went from station to station at the Fantasy Camp for Kids clinic.

The Fantasy Camp for Kids is a nonprofit that gives children with special needs the opportunity to play baseball. Every summer since 2008, the Rockies have helped with a clinic at the Jason Jennings Adaptive Field. On Thursday, Gonzalez, along with Ryan McMahon and Yency Almonte, led hitting and pitching stations for around 60 children from the Special Olympics of Colorado and Big D's Warriors (an adaptive baseball league). Each participant had a Rockies hat and a jersey with their name on the back, as they ran around the field in the sun.

"Every year, we're looking for kids who might not get to experience baseball in a traditional way," Dallas Davis, the Rockies' assistant director of community affairs, said. "This is vital into what we want to do. Our mission as an organization is not only to be champions on the field, but in our community as well. And we love to do this."

Rockies players love it, too. Gonzalez, McMahon and Almonte all said their favorite part of the morning was seeing the joy the children had when they ran around the bases, hit a ball over the fence or made a pitch at the target. And they all said they learned something from the players they were teaching.

"They're all super happy and super excited," Almonte said. "The way they look at life is the way we should look at life."

Gonzalez agreed: "The way the kids had their smile after they made contact, the way they had so much joy as they ran around the bases -- it brings you back to when you were a kid. I know it's our job, but we're all doing the game we love. It reminds you that you need to love this game."

The camp impacted everyone on the field, from the participants to the Rockies' players, from the staff to the parents. It was a chance to have the children interact with others, be active and be supported by everyone around them.

"Here, they don't feel different," Allison said. "They're the same. We get to see our kids truly have fun and have a good time."

Allison had a good time as well, not only because she got to watch her daughter play, but because she was able to build relationships with other parents who know what she's going through as a parent of a child with special needs.

"They get it when your kid hits the ball for the first time and that look that you give them, they can see it in your eyes," Allison said. "They're so excited for you. They really do just get it."

When she talked about the way her daughter hit that ball and the experiences she had Thursday morning, Allison had tears in her eyes.

"To see her hit that ball the first time out, it means a lot," Allison said. "She may not have had that opportunity before."

Anne Rogers is a reporter for MLB.com based in Denver. Follow her on Twitter at @anne__rogers.

Colorado Rockies

Uganda RBI finds support far from home

Team made long journey to participate in World Series
MLB.com

ST. PAUL, MINN -- With the weight of their country on their shoulders, playing baseball in the RBI (Reviving Baseball in Inner Cities) World Series has been the least of Uganda RBI's worries for the past two weeks.

To make it this far, Uganda's players and coaches traveled three hours by bus to Entebbe National Airport, flew nine hours to Amsterdam before enduring a layover, then caught another nine-hour flight to the U.S.

ST. PAUL, MINN -- With the weight of their country on their shoulders, playing baseball in the RBI (Reviving Baseball in Inner Cities) World Series has been the least of Uganda RBI's worries for the past two weeks.

To make it this far, Uganda's players and coaches traveled three hours by bus to Entebbe National Airport, flew nine hours to Amsterdam before enduring a layover, then caught another nine-hour flight to the U.S.

With only a day of rest between their arrival and their tournament opener, an 8-3 victory over Arizona on Monday, the 13 players, ranging in age from 13 to 15, are starting to grow accustomed to the travel. Eight days prior, the team made virtually the same trip in order to get to Vero Beach, Fla., where it navigated its way through a three-day regional tournament before prevailing in the championship to earn a spot in this week's RBI World Series in Minnesota.

Complete coverage of the RBI World Series

If all that weren't enough, Uganda RBI will play this week with the pressure of being the first team from their country to qualify for the RBI World Series.

"It's been fun and it's a great opportunity," Uganda first baseman Nicholas Alumai said. "It has been eye-opening to us. When we go back home, we want to train harder and work on our mistakes and play even better."

The process of making the 7,899-mile trip to the tournament was difficult for the players, and nearly impossible for their families. But even though the players' loved ones are relegated to watching from home, Uganda will have support from a fanbase that, while small in numbers, is immensely passionate.

Tweet from @MLBRBI: Welcome to the #RBIWorldSeries, Uganda! pic.twitter.com/4p7S0Nz6uz

At each game, Jennifer Kirabo and Mike DiGiacinto are posted behind the team's dugout, waving a full-sized Ugandan flag and cheering their hearts out in support of the players who have become like family to them over the years.

Kirabo, a filmmaker, traveled to Kampala, Uganda, in 2013 after she saw the 2012 Uganda Little League World Series squad playing on TV. She saw a group that overcame immense adversity within their home country to make it to Williamsport, Pa., and felt compelled to help however she could.

Kirabo traveled to Uganda and worked as a volunteer at The Allen VR Stanley Secondary School, where she taught acting and filmmaking. She saw a tangible impact in how her lessons instilled confidence in the students and inspired them to share their stories. She knew she needed to find a way to make it a full-time endeavor.

Kirabo returned to Uganda in 2016, this time with DiGiacinto, her good friend, who had acted in some of her past films. Through Kirabo's project, Filmanthropy, the pair spent a month working and living at the school and forging close relationships with the students, including those who now make up RBI Uganda's roster.

"They're just the most warm-hearted, sweet people you'll ever meet in your life," Kirabo said. "We just got so close to them that when we left, they're crying, we're crying. It was just so hard to leave them. Then when we went back, literally all I did in the States was work so I could get back there. Like, I couldn't stop thinking about them."

Through Filmanthropy, the pair introduced creative writing, acting and filmmaking classes and helped the students write, film and act in their own short film. A half-year later, they edited the film and premiered it at the second-largest theater in Kampala, while giving the students a red-carpet experience.

"We had dresses donated for the girls and shirts and ties for the boys," Kirabo said. "We invited their families and it was just amazing. … Some had never been to a real theater before."

Kirabo had the chance to continue volunteering with the school in 2017, and now each time Uganda plays in the U.S., she and DiGiacinto clear their schedules and travel to support them.

"It's just funny how your life changes," DiGiacinto said. "We had our lives and our careers and then this beautiful, magical thing happens and all these other beautiful people fall into our lives. I've kind of taken a step back from individual goals, just to just do what we can."

With Kirabo and DiGiacinto there in support, Uganda shrugged off the jet lag and won its first game of the tournament, the 8-3 win over Arizona. They dropped its next two matchups on Tuesday, but will have a chance to make some noise during Thursday's interleague playoff.

"They've got no time to worry too much," Uganda coach Tonny Opio said. "As long as they play. They sleep, eat. And win. Even though we lost the two games, we can still catch up."

Jarrid Denney is a reporter for MLB.com based in Minneapolis.

Taillon joins Taylor Hooton advisory board

Nonprofit organization educates youth about performance-enhancing drugs
MLB.com

PITTSBURGH -- The Pirates recently named Jameson Taillon to the advisory board for the Taylor Hooton Foundation. Taillon joins 37 other active players across Major League Baseball who are members of the board for the organization.

The Taylor Hooton Foundation is a nonprofit organization that exists to educate North America's youth about the harmful nature of anabolic steroids and other appearance and performance-enhancing drugs.

PITTSBURGH -- The Pirates recently named Jameson Taillon to the advisory board for the Taylor Hooton Foundation. Taillon joins 37 other active players across Major League Baseball who are members of the board for the organization.

The Taylor Hooton Foundation is a nonprofit organization that exists to educate North America's youth about the harmful nature of anabolic steroids and other appearance and performance-enhancing drugs.

"It seemed like a perfect fit when I was approached about joining the advisory board," Taillon said. "It seems like their message and their mission is pretty representative of what I believe in. Giving kids a little bit of insight into how you can live a healthy lifestyle without putting harmful substances into your body."

Taillon and the other players on the board will take part in the 2018 "It's All Me" public service campaign. The mission of the PSA is to advocate the Hooton Foundation's mission to warn young people about the dangers of PEDs.

"I'd always seen the shirts in the clubhouse, the 'All Me PED Free' shirts," Taillon said. "I didn't know exactly what it was, but I think Tony Watson and Jared Hughes were wearing them around. I didn't really have prior knowledge of the organization, but I was proud to be invited into the group."

The Taylor Hooton Foundation was founded in 2004 by friends and family of Taylor Hooton, a high school athlete from Texas, after he passed away at 17 after using anabolic steroids.

"Our young people today are driven to look their best, and millions of middle and high school kids are using appearance and performance-enhancing substances to achieve their goals," Taylor Hooton Foundation President Donald Hooton, Jr. said in a press release. "We're so proud of the support that Major League Baseball and these elite athletes provide to send a positive message to kids that they, too, can accomplish all of their dreams without the use of drugs."

Mason Wittner is a reporter for MLB.com based in Pittsburgh.

Pittsburgh Pirates, Jameson Taillon