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Youth Baseball

Boys & Girls Club reopens in Puerto Rico

Manfred on hand for special ceremony during Tribe-Twins series
MLB.com

SAN JOSE, Puerto Rico -- While the Puerto Rico series between the Twins and the Indians is the main event on the island, Major League Baseball has been active in the local community, including hosting a charity event at the Boys & Girls Club in Rio Piedras, San Jose on Tuesday.

MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred took part in a special ceremony at the grand reopening of the Boys & Girls Club, which was fully renovated after Hurricane Maria. Manfred was joined by former Major Leaguer and Puerto Rico native Carlos Delgado and Boys & Girls Clubs of America president and CEO Jim Clark.

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SAN JOSE, Puerto Rico -- While the Puerto Rico series between the Twins and the Indians is the main event on the island, Major League Baseball has been active in the local community, including hosting a charity event at the Boys & Girls Club in Rio Piedras, San Jose on Tuesday.

MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred took part in a special ceremony at the grand reopening of the Boys & Girls Club, which was fully renovated after Hurricane Maria. Manfred was joined by former Major Leaguer and Puerto Rico native Carlos Delgado and Boys & Girls Clubs of America president and CEO Jim Clark.

View Full Game Coverage

"I think this is great," Delgado said. "Boys & Girls Club gives kids a great opportunity, especially in a place like this in an inner-city community. It gives the kids a chance to go on to better things. We're so happy to have this in Puerto Rico with all the buzz surrounding the Puerto Rico series. I've been a friend to Boys & Girls for a while, and I have worked with them on the island and in New York when I was on the Mets. At the end of the day, the people who benefit are the kids."

:: Puerto Rico Series coverage ::

Major League Baseball has had a long history with the Boys & Girls Club, as it's been an official partner since 1997. The renovated club in Rio Piedras now has a full basketball court and several activity rooms for the children to use.

"We're always happy to give back, and certainly with the Boys & Girls Club, which has been our official charity for 22 years," said Tom Brasuell, vice president of community affairs for MLB. "We give back in times of disaster. We were here a few years ago when there was a little calamity, and we did charity work after the hurricane during the World Series. We're always supporting Boys & Girls Club, but when times are bad, we're always happy to reach out even further."

MLB has also always had strong relationship with Puerto Rico, as several former stars have come from the island, such as Roberto Clemente, Orlando Cepeda, Ivan Rodriguez, Roberto Alomar, Bernie Williams, Carlos Beltran and Delgado. MLB also awards the Roberto Clemente Award annually to a player who "best exemplifies the game of baseball, sportsmanship, community involvement and the individual's contribution to his team."

"It's an honor to have Carlos Delgado here as a former Roberto Clemente Award winner," Brasuell said. "He's been tremendous in the community when he was player and since then. He's been involved with charities wherever he's played and here in Puerto Rico."

Video: Eddie Rosario returns home to Guayama, Puerto Rico

MLB has been hosting several charity events since Monday, including Twins left fielder Eddie Rosario going back to his former high school in Guayama and Indians shortstop Francisco Lindor visiting his school in Gurabo. Twins right-hander Jose Berrios also visited a local hospital on Monday.

"We're showcasing the best players in the world over the next two days," Brasuell said. "But many past and present players are here on the island where there's a huge passion for baseball. It's important to give back to this region, which has supported baseball for so many years."

Rhett Bollinger has covered the Twins for MLB.com since 2011. Follow him on Twitter @RhettBollinger and Facebook.

Cleveland Indians, Minnesota Twins

Alomar lends hand to PR kids at Play Ball event

Hall of Famer helps bring MLB initiative to storm-ravaged island
MLB.com

SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico -- Hall of Famer Roberto Alomar scanned the outfield at Hiram Bithorn Stadium on Monday afternoon, saw hundreds of kids running around the field as part of Major League Baseball's Play Ball initiative and imagined his younger self running along with them.

Maybe an 8-year-old Alomar would have hit way too many homers to count in the home run derby station. He probably would have owned the ground-ball and popup drills. But most importantly, he would have had fun, and Monday at the ballpark was all about fun.

SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico -- Hall of Famer Roberto Alomar scanned the outfield at Hiram Bithorn Stadium on Monday afternoon, saw hundreds of kids running around the field as part of Major League Baseball's Play Ball initiative and imagined his younger self running along with them.

Maybe an 8-year-old Alomar would have hit way too many homers to count in the home run derby station. He probably would have owned the ground-ball and popup drills. But most importantly, he would have had fun, and Monday at the ballpark was all about fun.

:: Puerto Rico Series coverage ::

"All I did was play baseball as a kid, and I would have loved this," said Alomar, who works as a consultant for Major League Baseball. "Every time I see young kids, I see myself. I was a kid once and all of the time I spent playing baseball when I was young helped me become the player I was. Maybe this can help these kids like that, too."

The latest edition of the Play Ball activation featured more than 450 participants from all over Puerto Rico. In addition to hitting and fielding drills, activities included baserunning and agility workouts. All participants on Monday received a bat-and-ball set along with a Play Ball T-shirt and wristbands.

"With the hurricane, the damage and all of the tragedy they have endured, we want this to be a bright spot for the kids," said Tony Reagins, Major League Baseball's executive vice president of baseball and softball development. "We want to shine a light on the kids and give them something they can remember forever. It's about creating smiles and a positive experience for our game."

The Play Ball activation capped a busy day for Major League Baseball on the island. The morning began with a golf tournament to benefit the Boys & Girls Club and Habitat for Humanity. Cleveland shortstop Francisco Lindor visited his old elementary school in Gurabo, while Twins pitcher Jose Berrios and teammates visited San Jorge Children's Hospital. Later in the afternoon, Twins left fielder Eddie Rosario ran a clinic for 75 students at his former high school in Guayama.

There are more activities scheduled Tuesday and Wednesday before the night games at Hiram Bithorn Stadium.

Video: Alomar discusses upcoming Puerto Rico Series

"Baseball has looked at this opportunity for sometime now, and with what the island has gone through, this has an even greater impact," Reagins said. "We are excited to bring our youth activation here and get the young people engaged on a Major League field and provide a connection to our game and a great experience."

Alomar was joined on the field by former Major League player Carlos Baerga. Together, the Puerto Rican baseball legends helped out with drills and shared some advice with the young participants.

"It was important for me at that age to see Major League players come back to help and I want to do the same thing for the next generation," Baerga said. "This isn't just about baseball. I'm here to tell them about life, the importance of education, respecting people and things like that. Part of being a good player is being a good person."

Play Ball launched in June 2015 and has operated events in hundreds of cities across the United States. The program continues to increase in numbers.

"We are little over 2 1/2 years in and the interest level continues to grow," Reagins said. "We continue to go into communities around the country that need it and that we want to engage. It's important to our overall strategy, in terms of access to our game, and hopefully we can create lifelong fans as a result of this."

Jesse Sanchez, who has been writing for MLB.com since 2001, is a national reporter based in Phoenix. Follow him on Twitter @JesseSanchezMLB and Facebook.

Cleveland Indians, Minnesota Twins

Girls shine on diamond at Trailblazer Series

MLB.com

COMPTON, Calif. -- Thirteen-year-old Kokoro Sagae felt very much at home as she took the field with her teammates on Saturday. But she also knew that this game would be different than most she's played in.

Sagae, like the other 100 girls currently participating in the Trailblazer Series in Compton, Calif., has been playing baseball most of her life. Most other times, she's the only girl on a field full of boys. But not this weekend. The tournament is for girls only -- and for many of these young athletes, it's the first time they've ever had this kind of opportunity.

COMPTON, Calif. -- Thirteen-year-old Kokoro Sagae felt very much at home as she took the field with her teammates on Saturday. But she also knew that this game would be different than most she's played in.

Sagae, like the other 100 girls currently participating in the Trailblazer Series in Compton, Calif., has been playing baseball most of her life. Most other times, she's the only girl on a field full of boys. But not this weekend. The tournament is for girls only -- and for many of these young athletes, it's the first time they've ever had this kind of opportunity.

Trailblazer girls inspired by Jackie's legacy in LA

"It's a great experience," said Sagae, a native of San Jose, Calif. "On my normal team, I only played with boys. It's really fun to [have] experiences like hanging out with a roommate and just hanging out with other girls who play the same sport I do."

Now in its second year, the Trailblazer Series has attracted girls from all over the United States, as well as Canada and Puerto Rico. It's part of Major League Baseball's ongoing commitment to attract more young people to the game, while sending a clear message that baseball is a game for everyone -- regardless of gender, race or socioeconomic background.

Dozens of national organizations have teamed with MLB in committing to provide girls with opportunities to participate in their baseball leagues. USA Baseball's National Member Organizations -- AABC, American Legion, Babe Ruth League, Dixie Boys and Majors, Dixie Youth, Little League International, NABF, NFHS, PONY and USSSA -- are all working toward growing the opportunities in the game afforded to girls.

The first day of the tournament at the MLB Youth Academy in Compton on Saturday featured a healthy dose of fierce competition among the six teams involved. Guided by accomplished coaches that included 12 members of the USA Baseball Women's National Team and Baseball for All founder Justine Siegal, the girls spent the morning showcasing their baseball skills in front of an audience that included parents, MLB executives and members of the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League.

The coolest part? For most of the girls, it was, simply, the opportunity to play baseball with peers who have similar talent levels -- and who love playing baseball.

Tweet from @MLBDevelops: No matter your size, you, too, can throw a menacing bullpen sesh. #TrailblazerSeries 😤 pic.twitter.com/LakY3QD6gq

"I thought there were going to be the best girls here, and I thought it was going to be a really great experience and just be a lot of fun," said 12-year-old Luling, Texas, native Samantha Mundine, whose dad, John, was once a pitcher in the Twins organization. "I've always wanted to [play baseball], since I was a little kid."

Nadia Chernich, 12, of Fairbanks, Alaska, was looking forward to the "challenge" of playing in a tournament just for girls.

"Just being a sport that's mostly boy dominated, then you're coming in here and you say, 'Hey, I can play, watch me play,'" she said.

Chernich, who tripled in the fourth inning for Team Ng, plays both softball and baseball. She's endured a fair share of razzing from boys when she's taken the field to play baseball. But she's opted to let her talent serve as her best defense.

"My dad was like, 'They're just hating on you because they're not as good as you,'" Chernich said. "I'm like, 'If they're going to do that, that means I'm doing something right."

Twelve-year-old Madison Jennings, who tripled in the fourth inning for Team Blair, said one of the best parts about the tournament was meeting girls from places far from her hometown of Royal Palm Beach, Fla. She, like many girls participating in the Trailblazer Series, would like to play in the Majors someday. She'd also like to show girls younger than her that anything is possible.

"I want to help other girls know that they, too, can go above the glass ceiling," Jennings said.

And to those who say they can't?

"I just say, 'I can play baseball,'" Sagae said. "I show them on the field that I can. I like to show them that I can pitch, I can throw, I can bat. I can do what the boys are doing, too."

Alyson Footer is a national correspondent for MLB.com. Follow her on Twitter @alysonfooter.

MLBPAA puts on free youth clinic at The Trop

Special to MLB.com

ST PETERSBURG -- More than 75 youth baseball players were on hand to participate in a baseball clinic hosted by the Major League Baseball Players Alumni Association with the help of the Tampa Bay Rays on Saturday.

The players, from Burg Baseball and Wildwood Baseball in St. Petersburg, participated in the free clinic at Tropicana Field that featured six former Major League players. Among them was current Rays broadcaster Orestes Destrade, who spoke highly of the event put on by the MLBPAA.

ST PETERSBURG -- More than 75 youth baseball players were on hand to participate in a baseball clinic hosted by the Major League Baseball Players Alumni Association with the help of the Tampa Bay Rays on Saturday.

The players, from Burg Baseball and Wildwood Baseball in St. Petersburg, participated in the free clinic at Tropicana Field that featured six former Major League players. Among them was current Rays broadcaster Orestes Destrade, who spoke highly of the event put on by the MLBPAA.

"It's a slam dunk for me, because this is what I do, what I like to do -- the broadcasting is like an aside," said Destrade, who coached the players in hitting drills. "It's what it's about and I really try to push a message of combining education and the sports part."

Joining Destrade were Jason Johnson and Kevin Ohme, who instructed the children on pitching mechanics; Rob Mackowiak and Rich Thompson, who focused on fielding skills; and Brian Tollberg, who ran the players through baserunning drills.

Johnson said he was impressed with how eager the kids were to learn and praised how they applied the coaching they were receiving.

"It's an honor to come out here with these kids because they like to listen and they like to play," Johnson said. "It's great to come out here and talk to them and teach them how to perform because some of these kids are amazing at the age they are right now."

At the conclusion of the clinic, players spoke candidly about life lessons needed to be successful in a career in baseball or elsewhere before an autograph session with the players. Destrade preached the importance of academics and of the three P's - practice, preparation and performance.

"My big praise to them is 'Play hard and play harder,'" Destrade said. "It's really because of my mom, because of what she taught me and my brothers and how important being smart is."

Johnson, meanwhile, called the life lessons portion of the clinic one of the most important parts of the day as he emphasized how important it is to listen to coaches, teachers and parents.

"When you're a kid, you don't want to listen as much, because you just want to play," Johnson said. "I think it's important to teach them that if you listen and learn, you'll player better. Your parents are always there to help you and teach you to make you better in life."

The event was just one of approximately 185 youth clinics the MLBPAA runs each year, in addition to the 41 coach's clinics the organization runs. They teach more than 18,000 children each year throughout the United States and 14 other countries.

Johnson said he hopes the programs continue to expand, adding it is ultimately up to the former players to do their part.

"When they come out and play with us, I think it's important, because they go back and tell their friends and then the friends want to come play, too," Johnson said. "I was blessed to play as long as I did, and I wish I had the opportunity to play in some of the alumni group camps like this. To be able to pay it forward and teach the kids, I think that's very important.

Greg Zeck is a contributor to MLB.com.

Tampa Bay Rays

At Trailblazer Series, role models abound

Piagno talks responsibility of her generation as all-girl event begins
MLB.com

LOS ANGELES -- As a kid growing up playing baseball, Stacy Piagno wanted nothing more than to just blend in with the boys as the only girl on the team.

As an adult, Piagno's perspective has evolved. Girls playing baseball is special. It is unique. It's also becoming more commonplace and will continue to move in that direction, as long as this generation of female baseball players draws attention to the growing trend within the sport.

LOS ANGELES -- As a kid growing up playing baseball, Stacy Piagno wanted nothing more than to just blend in with the boys as the only girl on the team.

As an adult, Piagno's perspective has evolved. Girls playing baseball is special. It is unique. It's also becoming more commonplace and will continue to move in that direction, as long as this generation of female baseball players draws attention to the growing trend within the sport.

"There's a responsibility where we have to be trailblazers for future generations," said Piagno, a member of USA Baseball Women's National Team. "If we want to continue to play baseball and have women's baseball grow, it's important for us to be role models and it's so important for us to open doors for those younger girls."

Doors are wide open this weekend in Los Angeles, where 100 girls ages 11-13 are participating in the Trailblazer Series, a three-day event to be held at the MLB Youth Academy in Compton. The girls -- who hail from all over the United States, Puerto Rico and Canada -- will be split into six teams for a round-robin tournament Saturday and Sunday.

• MLB creates path for girls at Trailblazer Series

Major League Baseball has worked with dozens of national organizations, all of which have committed to providing girls opportunities to participate in their baseball leagues. USA Baseball's National Member Organizations -- AABC, American Legion, Babe Ruth League, Dixie Boys and Majors, Dixie Youth, Little League International, NABF, NFHS, PONY, and USSSA -- are all working toward growing the opportunities afforded to girls in the game.

Video: MLB, USA Baseball on upcoming girls baseball events

In addition to games, the Trailblazer Series features several special activities, including non-game instruction from the coaches, appearances by special guests connected to baseball, and a visit on Saturday to Chavez Ravine, where the Dodgers will be celebrating the game's most distinguished trailblazer -- Jackie Robinson, who broke baseball's color barrier as a member of the Brooklyn Dodgers on April 15, 1947.

The Trailblazer Series coaching staff, which consists of 12 past and present members of the USA Baseball Women's National Team and Baseball For All founder Justine Siegal, spent the morning Friday preparing for the girls' arrivals later in the afternoon.

"It means the world to be here and to have the opportunity to work with the younger girls and share our experiences with them, and let them know that we've been through some of the things that you've been through, whether it's good or bad," Piagno said. "We can help them learn and maybe help steer them in the right direction."

Video: Bridget Venturi talks about the Trailblazer Series

Piagno has experience in this area. In 2016, she and teammates Kelsie Whitmore and Anna Kimbrell joined the Independent League Sonoma Stompers. Piagno has played for the team the past two seasons.

Piagno said she was one of the lucky ones who was able to play baseball through high school rather than be funneled over to the softball side. She wants girls to know that they have options as they get older.

"The percentage of girls that play Little League drops significantly by the time they get to high school," Piagno said. "There is a small handful of girls that didn't get to play during high school, and then after high school, it drops to one percent or so of girls who actually go on to play college baseball.

"I think just in society it's engrained to us that girls have to play softball, boys have to play baseball. It's so rare for girls who do play baseball to continue pushing through it."

The girls participating in the Trailblazer Series this weekend will be encouraged to follow that path, if they so desire. It's a message today's coaches wish they had relayed to them when they were kids.

"The weekend for me is about keeping the passion alive and trying to reflect in those kids the same feelings I had when I was 12 years old," said coach Bridget Venturi, an outfielder for the USA Baseball Women's National Team in 2004 and '06. "I wanted to win the World Series, the Super Bowl and the NBA Championship all at once, every day, after school. If these kids can keep that alive in their minds and hearts, it's possible -- whatever their dream is. That's a successful trailblazer for me."

Alyson Footer is a national correspondent for MLB.com. Follow her on Twitter @alysonfooter.

All-girl Trailblazer Series returns on Friday

Event will have approximately 100 participants, plus special guests
MLB.com

The growing trend of girls who play baseball will be celebrated and supported this weekend in Compton, Calif., where approximately 100 girls will participate in the Trailblazer Series, hosted by Major League Baseball and USA Baseball.

Now in its second year, the three-day event, to be held at the MLB Youth Academy, is for girls 13 and younger who hail from the United States, Puerto Rico and Canada. The girls will be divided into six teams, selected randomly, and will be coached by some of the nation's top female baseball coaches and players.

The growing trend of girls who play baseball will be celebrated and supported this weekend in Compton, Calif., where approximately 100 girls will participate in the Trailblazer Series, hosted by Major League Baseball and USA Baseball.

Now in its second year, the three-day event, to be held at the MLB Youth Academy, is for girls 13 and younger who hail from the United States, Puerto Rico and Canada. The girls will be divided into six teams, selected randomly, and will be coached by some of the nation's top female baseball coaches and players.

Major League Baseball has been collaborating with dozens of national organizations, all of which have committed to providing girls the opportunity to participate in their baseball leagues. USA Baseball's National Member Organizations -- AABC, American Legion, Babe Ruth League, Dixie Boys and Majors, Dixie Youth, Little League International, NABF, NFHS, PONY and USSSA -- are all committed to making young women feel welcome playing baseball in their leagues.

"Women playing baseball is an important part of our sport's history," Commissioner Rob Manfred said. "That legacy is also significant to the game's present and future. We are proud to work alongside USA Baseball in creating events that raise the profile of girls and women in baseball. We are committed to ensuring that any young woman who chooses to play baseball, particularly through our RBI programs and MLB Youth Academies, will have the opportunity to do so."

Practices will be held Friday in advance of the two-day round-robin tournament Friday and Saturday. Additionally, Trailblazer Series participants partake in a series of special activities, including non-game instruction from the coaches, appearances by special guests connected to baseball and a visit to Dodger Stadium on Saturday. The entire event is completely expense-free for participants.

Video: Former female pro players on Trailblazer Series

The list of special guests includes three members of the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League -- Maybelle "Mae" Blair, Shirley "Hustle" Burkovich and Jeneane Lesko. Olympic gold medalist Jennie Finch, who serves as Youth Programs Ambassador for MLB, will also attend, as will congresswoman Nanette Diaz Barragán from California's 44th District.

Rep. Barragán, who plays in the Congressional Baseball Game each year and grew up playing baseball with boys, will throw out the ceremonial first pitch on Friday.

The coaching staff includes Justine Siegal, founder of Baseball for All, and 12 members of the USA Baseball Women's National Team.

"I'm honored," Siegal said. "It's phenomenal to see Major League Baseball support these girls and see how the Trailblazer Series has grown. For me, it's a dream come true as a coach to see it all happening.

"I hope the girls get from the Trailblazer Series the knowledge that baseball is a game for them, and they're wanted."

The Trailblazer Series will feature special speaker sessions, which will include presentations from notable women from the baseball and girl's baseball industries such as MLB senior vice president of baseball operations Kim Ng, Los Angeles Angels senior vice president of finance and administration Molly Jolly, executive director of the Los Angeles Dodgers Foundation Nichol Whiteman and others.

The goal of the presentations is to provide information on career experiences both on and off the field as well as to encourage participants to continue playing the game.

The Trailblazer Series will, fittingly, be held in conjunction with the celebration of baseball's most famous trailblazer, Jackie Robinson, whose memory is honored every year on April 15, the day he broke baseball's color barrier in 1947.

Alyson Footer is a national correspondent for MLB.com. Follow her on Twitter @alysonfooter.

Sportsmanship on full display in LLWS

A spectacular moment during the Little League Baseball World Series reminded us that it's not about wins and losses, but how the game is played
MLB.com

The Little League Baseball World Series has its share of flashy plays and big home runs, but the passion and emotion from its participants, win or lose, make it special. With these emotions comes the opportunity for tremendous displays of sportsmanship that transcend every other level of the game, whether it's your town's opening day this month or the pinnacle of the youth game.

During the 2017 LLBWS, the Caribbean Region and the Latin America Region were locked in a close game, with the Caribbean representatives from the Dominican Republic holding a 2-1 lead. With runners on first and second base and one out in the bottom of the sixth, weather halted the game.

The Little League Baseball World Series has its share of flashy plays and big home runs, but the passion and emotion from its participants, win or lose, make it special. With these emotions comes the opportunity for tremendous displays of sportsmanship that transcend every other level of the game, whether it's your town's opening day this month or the pinnacle of the youth game.

During the 2017 LLBWS, the Caribbean Region and the Latin America Region were locked in a close game, with the Caribbean representatives from the Dominican Republic holding a 2-1 lead. With runners on first and second base and one out in the bottom of the sixth, weather halted the game.

Pitching for the Dominican Republic was 4-foot-8, 85-pound Edward "Sopita" Uceta. In his first LLBWS appearance on the mound, Sopita -- which translated means "Little Soup" -- had not given up a run and struck out four batters. He had a 2-1 count on Venezuela's Omar Romero when the game was put on hold.

Romero remained ready to hit during the lengthy break and sent the second pitch from Uceta over the right fielder's head for a game-winning, two-run triple. The Latin America dugout exploded out onto the field in celebration as the team mobbed Romero at third base.

Tweet from @LittleLeague: He may have been the smallest player at the 2017 #LLWS, but Omar Romero was Latin America's spark plug: https://t.co/7GjFvJChVb #ThisIsLittleLeague pic.twitter.com/MSTDlWke3F

As Romero rose, Uceta fell. He laid flat on his stomach, face in his palms just in front of the mound as he sobbed over giving up the game-winning hit.

"I felt bad because I wanted that win for the Dominican, and I wanted to go all the way in this tournament," Uceta said through interpreter Antonio Gonzalez. "Edward is the engine of the team," Caribbean Region Manager Jose Cordero said through Gonzalez. "I don't want to talk about 'Sopita' because I might start crying [as well]."

What happened next at Volunteer Stadium epitomizes Little League and the bond of friendship and respect between two teams. Coaches and players from the Latin America team halted their jubilation to console Uceta.

"Edward has a big heart," said Latin America manager Alex Ballesteros. "It could have been the opposite way, and I know that we would have been feeling the same way. I just told him that I was very proud of him."

"That made me feel good when they showed good sportsmanship," said Uceta. "Some teams will want to push you down when they beat you, so it felt really good that they were supporting me."

Latin America advanced to the next game, but was eliminated from the tournament by Mexico. Who was sitting behind home plate in support of the Latin America team? "Sopita" of course.

"We are Latin; we are like brothers," Cordero said.

When the game against Mexico concluded, Uceta made his way down to the Latin America team's dugout to shake the hands of his Venezuelan "brothers," a fitting way to end their LLBWS experience.

This article originally appeared in the 2018 Little League Magazine.

Jennie Finch's best pitching tips

MLB's youth softball ambassador gives her keys to being dominant on the mound
MLB.com

There's only one word to describe Jennie Finch: legendary. The two-time U.S. Olympic medalist and three-time All-American at the University of Arizona is one of the most recognizable faces in softball history, once winning 60 consecutive starts for the Wildcats and bringing home gold at the 2004 Summer Olympics in Athens, Greece. 

After retiring from an illustrious domestic and international career in the sport, she became one of the game's most passionate promoters, teaming up with various partners to take softball to new heights. Last year, she was named MLB's youth softball ambassador, a role that allows her to connect with the game's next crop of superstars and share her tips on being a softball ace.

There's only one word to describe Jennie Finch: legendary. The two-time U.S. Olympic medalist and three-time All-American at the University of Arizona is one of the most recognizable faces in softball history, once winning 60 consecutive starts for the Wildcats and bringing home gold at the 2004 Summer Olympics in Athens, Greece. 

After retiring from an illustrious domestic and international career in the sport, she became one of the game's most passionate promoters, teaming up with various partners to take softball to new heights. Last year, she was named MLB's youth softball ambassador, a role that allows her to connect with the game's next crop of superstars and share her tips on being a softball ace.

Snap, Crackle, Pop

Throwing a ball is not natural, I don't care if it's underhand or overhand. If you have unsafe mechanics, then there's just as much stress on an underhand pitcher as there is by throwing overhand. I'm a big advocate of having the right mechanics before you start pushing your body to the max.

Full Force

So much of it is getting everything behind your pitch, just like loading in hitting; making sure you have everything behind it, and then you transfer everything forward. The big key is the resistance off the front side. I always say, "Stick it and spin it." Stick [your stride foot] and transfer it to the ball.

Video: Jennie Finch discusses her career, representing USA

Pick your Poison

My dad never wanted me to have a go-to pitch because if I did, everyone would know what was coming in that go-to situation. He was such an advocate of, "You have to throw any of your pitches in any count and any situation." Depending on the time in my career, the umpire's zone, even the hitter, I couldn't pick out one pitch. It depended more on the situation.

All or Nothing

I'm a huge advocate of "If you're out there trying to get better, give it everything you have." Make sure that your game speed is close to your practice speed. That's the challenge; when nobody is in the stands, nobody is on the bases, and it's just you and a bullpen catcher or your dad, that's when the biggest difference is made.

Play Ball opens doors for young ballplayers

The program, launched in 2015, gives boys and girls even more ways to play
MLB.com

Every youth league has its legends, from the pinch-hitter who won the championship game with a walk-off double to the impossibly tall starting pitcher who throws harder than most coaches. These hometown heroes dominate local diamonds around the country and help make the lasting impressions that define youth sports.

Now, imagine stepping between the lines and working on your skills with world-famous heroes, ones that we watch on TV and imitate in our backyards. Seems like a dream come true, right? Thanks to the Play Ball initiative, these dreams are becoming reality for young athletes across North America.

Every youth league has its legends, from the pinch-hitter who won the championship game with a walk-off double to the impossibly tall starting pitcher who throws harder than most coaches. These hometown heroes dominate local diamonds around the country and help make the lasting impressions that define youth sports.

Now, imagine stepping between the lines and working on your skills with world-famous heroes, ones that we watch on TV and imitate in our backyards. Seems like a dream come true, right? Thanks to the Play Ball initiative, these dreams are becoming reality for young athletes across North America.

Launched in 2015 by MLB and USA Baseball, Play Ball aims at getting children involved in baseball- and softball-related activities, and enlists the help of the game's stars to hit its goal. Kids have learned, played and found their passion for our pastime through clinics led by All-Stars such as Francisco Lindor and Carlos Correa, and Hall of Famers such as Tim Raines and Ozzie Smith.

The Play Ball campaign provides plenty of exciting ways to get in the game, from cranking homers like a real Big Leaguer, to showing off your skills on a national level. Here are just a few of the ways that young ballplayers everywhere are getting involved (for more information, visit playball.org).

Play Ball Park at the LLWS

Play Ball made its Little League World Series debut last summer, and it brought a whole new dimension to the week-long excitement in Williamsport. Along with learning techniques that are vital to the sport -- including bunting and baserunning -- those in attendance at Play Ball Park copied some of the powerful prodigies playing in the tournament at the popular home run derby station.

"The future of USA Baseball is these kids," said Bill Krejci, a USA Baseball coach who helped out at Play Ball Park and has worked with several MLB stars. "If we don't get them engaged at a young age, we aren't going to have a Manny Machado or a Bryce Harper. So when you have something like this, it creates some enthusiasm for baseball. These kids will keep this in their mind. These are our next future Big Leaguers."

Video: Pitch, Hit and Run winners at All-Star week

Pitch, Hit & Run

Do you prefer a little more competition on the diamond? Then sign up for your local baseball or softball Scotts MLB Pitch, Hit and Run competition in 2018 for the chance to win a national title during July's All-Star weekend in Washington, D.C. Competitors participate in three challenges: pitching into a strike zone, hitting off a tee and a timed sprint from second base to home plate.

Pitch, Hit and Run alumni include MLB All-Star and World Series champion Eric Hosmer and Phillies outfielder Rhys Hoskins. Local competitions usually take place before mid-May, putting the thrill of baseball into your local ballfield. Learn more about hosting a competition, or find an existing one near you, at pitchhitrun.com.

Jr. Home Run Derby

Kids can even swing for the fences in a locally-hosted MLB Jr. Home Run Derby, one of the most exciting events of the year! The derby, designed for players 14 years old and under, is also free to host on a local level and, like Pitch, Hit and Run, gives children the opportunity to advance to the National Finals during MLB All-Star Week, being held in the nation's capital in 2018.

To register as a host, or to view a listing of local events, check out mlb.com/junior-home-run-derby.

Judge, Bellinger and Stanton are the "Home Run Boys"

These three former Little Leaguers are once again set to send baseballs flying from sea to shining sea
MLB.com

The patriotic tune "America the Beautiful" opens up with a poetic line that describes the vast expanse of land that spans much of the United States: "Oh beautiful, for spacious skies, for amber waves of grain." Well, if the 2017 MLB season was any barometer, those spacious skies are more crowded by the minute.

Collectively, Major League players hit 6,105 home runs last season, shattering the record set in 2000. And while there were plenty of sluggers who played a crucial role in setting the new mark, three standout performances drove the 2017 home run train. A pair of Rookies of the Year, Yankees right fielder Aaron Judge and Dodgers first baseman Cody Bellinger, had record-breaking campaigns of their own; and the reigning National League MVP, Giancarlo Stanton, put on a hitting clinic in Miami before being traded to New York and forming this generation's version of the Bash Brothers with Judge.

The patriotic tune "America the Beautiful" opens up with a poetic line that describes the vast expanse of land that spans much of the United States: "Oh beautiful, for spacious skies, for amber waves of grain." Well, if the 2017 MLB season was any barometer, those spacious skies are more crowded by the minute.

Collectively, Major League players hit 6,105 home runs last season, shattering the record set in 2000. And while there were plenty of sluggers who played a crucial role in setting the new mark, three standout performances drove the 2017 home run train. A pair of Rookies of the Year, Yankees right fielder Aaron Judge and Dodgers first baseman Cody Bellinger, had record-breaking campaigns of their own; and the reigning National League MVP, Giancarlo Stanton, put on a hitting clinic in Miami before being traded to New York and forming this generation's version of the Bash Brothers with Judge.

Collectively, the trio hit 150 regular-season home runs that accumulated a total length of more than 11 miles. While that figure isn't quite big enough to cover the 2,800-plus miles from the Atlantic to the Pacific Ocean, these three hitters have stats that stack up against some of the most iconic attractions across America, and they all got their start on local Little League fields.

The West Wing: Cody Bellinger

2017 HR total: 39

Cody Bellinger's meteoric rise to the far reaches of the universe almost didn't happen. It took an injury to then-incumbent Dodgers first baseman Adrian Gonzalez for Bellinger to even get called up to the Big Leagues in 2017. He was nearly unstoppable upon his debut in late April, though, belting 39 homers and driving in 97 runs in just 132 games to help L.A. to the best record in baseball. His .581 slugging percentage was second among rookies to play at least 100 games, trailing only Judge, and his 39 longballs broke the National League mark for first-year players previously held by Wally Berger and Frank Robinson.

Bellinger's 39 homers traveled a total length that checks in at just under three miles -- or 1.2 times as long as the Hollywood Walk of Fame, where the Dodgers have their very own star signifying their importance to the Los Angeles community. While his homers can't quite match up to the 655-mile, picturesque Pacific Coast Highway, Bellinger's blasts would definitely get pulled over for speeding. The first baseman's average exit velocity finished at just under 90 miles per hour in 2017, while the PCH posts a top speed limit of 60 mph. With a full season ahead of him in 2018, Bellinger will look to add even more mileage.

Beast of the East: Aaron Judge

2017 HR total: 52

Aaron Judge nearly became the third player ever to win both Rookie of the Year and MVP honors in the same season. Astros star Jose Altuve beat him out for the latter honor, but he took the American League by storm in his first full season, posting the Yankees' first 50-home run campaign since Alex Rodriguez in 2007. Judge also led the league in runs scored and walks while finishing in the top five in OBP and slugging percentage. Not bad for a freshman.

It's going to be difficult to follow up numbers like that, but if anyone can handle the bright lights of New York City, it's the mild-mannered Judge, whose 6-foot-7 frame now has extra protection in the lineup thanks to Stanton's equally gargantuan physique. If you add up all of Judge's home run distances from 2017, you'll get a sum that's more than 13 times the height of the iconic Empire State Building, which stands at 1,454 feet with its antenna. It's also roughly the distance between Yankee Stadium and the Bronx Zoo, where they house just a few creatures that can match Judge's brute strength. If you combine Judge's home run length with Stanton's, you can follow the path of the baseball all the way from the Bronx to Teaneck, N.J., more than eight miles away.

Video: Quick Hits: Smash Bros.

Mashed Taters: Giancarlo Stanton

2017 HR total: 59

There may not have been a single player last year that could completely change the game with a single swing the way Stanton did. From July 1 through August 31, the slugger belted 30 longballs, including 18 in August, which tied a record for that particular month. The power output - while a career high by far -- wasn't unexpected from Stanton, who averages more than 40 home runs per 162 games for his career. A history of injuries, rather than opposing pitching, has been his primary deterrent from previously reaching the 40-homer mark.

While the Marlins are going to miss his presence in the lineup, opposing pitchers in the National League can breathe a lot easier this season. His nearly 4.5 miles of home runs in 2017 were more than Judge or Bellinger, and could stretch the entire length of Key West, which sits at the southernmost tip of the Florida Keys at a hair under four miles long. With the Yankees-Red Sox rivalry now renewed, Stanton hopes to carry his 92 mph average exit velocity from 2017 into this season, with his eyes set on Boston's Landsdowne Street beyond Fenway Park's Green Monster.

Dylan Hornik is a reporter for MLB.com. This article originally appeared in the 2018 Little League Magazine.

Los Angeles Dodgers, New York Yankees, Cody Bellinger, Aaron Judge, Giancarlo Stanton

Waco, Texas Challenger Division team featured on HGTV

The Copp family's experience with the Little League Challenger Division shines on HGTV's hit show, "Fixer Upper."
Special to MLB.com

Tim Tebow, the "Fixer Upper" show, and a whole lot of support from the community. That's what the Copp family from Waco, Texas, has experienced after starring in an episode of the HGTV show "Fixer Upper" in January.

"We've had the dream of wanting an accessible home for our boys for about 10 years now," said Melissa Copp. "What I wanted as a parent was to give my sons a house that is 100 percent wheelchair accessible so they could be who they are, and we wouldn't settle for anything less."

Tim Tebow, the "Fixer Upper" show, and a whole lot of support from the community. That's what the Copp family from Waco, Texas, has experienced after starring in an episode of the HGTV show "Fixer Upper" in January.

"We've had the dream of wanting an accessible home for our boys for about 10 years now," said Melissa Copp. "What I wanted as a parent was to give my sons a house that is 100 percent wheelchair accessible so they could be who they are, and we wouldn't settle for anything less."

After almost 10 years of determination, that dream finally came true when Chip and Joanna Gaines, who remodel homes on the HGTV show, reached out to the family along with Tim Tebow and the Tebow Foundation to build the Copp family their dream home as part of the special "Touchdown for a Family in Need." Jody and Melissa Copp are parents to two boys -- Calan, 9, and Lawson, 5 -- who were born with a life-threatening condition that hinders their ability to stand and walk on their own, causing them to rely on wheelchairs for mobility.

"One of our biggest hopes [by appearing on 'Fixer Upper'] was to show the need for accessibility and show how small changes can make huge differences," said Jody Copp. "It really has given us a platform to be able to discuss it and get people thinking."

Thanks to the dedicated work of the Gaines family, Tim Tebow -- a former NFL quarterback and a Minor League outfielder in the Mets organization -- and a group of excited volunteers, the Copp family's new home allows their two sons the opportunity to be themselves and enjoy all of the features built especially for them.

Calan and Lawson are members of the Lake Air Little League Challenger Division, which provides unique opportunities for individuals with physical and intellectual challenges to experience the game of baseball. Being involved in that program gives both Calan and Lawson a place where they can let out their true competitive spirit.

Tweet from @LittleLeague: Thanks to @chipgaines, @joannagaines, @timtebow, and their community the Copp Family is closer than ever in their new home! #FixerUpper pic.twitter.com/ZK3PTThO7q

"One of the things that we have noticed is how quickly someone falls in love with the Challenger program when they see it for the first time," said Mr. Copp. "For me, as a coach, it's really special because I get to be out there with both of my sons and play with them. I get to try to teach them a little bit about baseball, but mainly just let them have fun and teach the importance of getting out and having the experience that we all should have."

For everyone in the Copp family, being involved in the Little League Challenger Division has been a blessing, bringing them all closer together. "It really is a great way for Calan and Lawson to bond, and I love that it does that for a lot of siblings out there," said Mrs. Copp. "The Challenger program allows our sons to experience things they never thought they would, and allows all of the kids' personalities to shine through."

Mr. and Mrs. Copp have tried to get their sons involved in a variety of adaptive programs, but Little League has been the one that has made the biggest difference in their lives.

"Little League has brought us closer together as a family because we found something that we can all be together doing," said Mr. Copp. "Challenger Baseball was the first thing that really brought us all together, and that's why it holds such a special place in our heart." Months after the airing of their special moment on "Fixer Upper,"the Copp Family continues to share the excitement that this opportunity has provided for their family, and are truly proud and thankful for everyone that was involved in helping their dreams come true.

"Thank you to everyone for letting us be the family we were meant to be," said Mrs. Copp. "We never gave up on our dream of allowing our sons to have a home that is accessible to them, and one where they can just be kids. We're experiencing things for the first time with our family now, and everyone who has supported us has allowed us to become stronger, and we are forever grateful."

This article originally appeared in the 2018 Little League Magazine.

All-girl Trailblazer Series returns for 2nd year

Approximately 100 girls to participate April 13-15 in Compton, Calif.
MLB.com

Major League Baseball's commitment to growing youth interest in the game, and its dedication to ensuring all kids are given the same opportunities to play baseball, will take a giant step forward in the coming weeks, beginning with the second annual Trailblazer Series, to be held in Compton, Calif., April 13-15.

The Trailblazer Series is unique in that it is dedicated to girls who play baseball, and it's one of two major all-girls events planned in the first three months of the season this year. The second event, the inaugural Girls Baseball "Breakthrough Series" Showcase & Development Camp, will take place May 31-June 4 at historic Dodgertown in Vero Beach, Fla.

Major League Baseball's commitment to growing youth interest in the game, and its dedication to ensuring all kids are given the same opportunities to play baseball, will take a giant step forward in the coming weeks, beginning with the second annual Trailblazer Series, to be held in Compton, Calif., April 13-15.

The Trailblazer Series is unique in that it is dedicated to girls who play baseball, and it's one of two major all-girls events planned in the first three months of the season this year. The second event, the inaugural Girls Baseball "Breakthrough Series" Showcase & Development Camp, will take place May 31-June 4 at historic Dodgertown in Vero Beach, Fla.

Major League Baseball has been collaborating with dozens of national organizations, all of which have committed to providing girls the opportunity to participate in their baseball leagues. USA Baseball's National Member Organizations -- AABC, American Legion, Babe Ruth League, Dixie Boys and Majors, Dixie Youth, Little League International, NABF, NFHS, PONY and USSSA -- are all committed to making young women feel welcome playing baseball in their leagues.

Video: MLB SVP Kim Ng on importance of Trailblazer Series

"Women playing baseball is an important part of our sport's history," Commissioner Rob Manfred said. "That legacy is also significant to the game's present and future. We are proud to work alongside USA Baseball in creating events that raise the profile of girls and women in baseball. We are committed to ensuring that any young woman who chooses to play baseball, particularly through our RBI programs and MLB Youth Academies, will have the opportunity to do so."

The Trailblazer Series, fittingly, will be held in conjunction with the celebration of baseball's most famous trailblazer, Jackie Robinson, whose memory is honored every year on April 15, the day he broke baseball's color barrier in 1947.

Approximately 100 girls, ages 11-13, representing 21 states across the country as well as Washington, D.C., Puerto Rico and Canada, will participate in the four-day Trailblazer Series, to be held at the MLB Youth Academy in Compton.

Some of the nation's top female baseball coaches and players, including those from USA Baseball's Women's National Team, will serve as coaches.

"USA Baseball has prided itself on providing an avenue for women to play baseball through the inception of our Women's National Team program in 2004," said USA Baseball executive director and CEO Paul Seiler. "It is inspiring to witness the tremendous growth in participation and popularity of women's baseball in our country, and we are honored to work with Major League Baseball to continue providing fruitful opportunities for any young woman who is passionate about playing the game of baseball."

Video: Tony Reagins on inaugural Trailblazer Series

The all-encompassing nature of organizations supporting this initiative is part of what make the upcoming events so groundbreaking. Essentially, every prominent group associated with youth baseball has committed to supporting participation in baseball by young women.

"Since 1974, hundreds of thousands of girls around the world have enjoyed the benefits of playing Little League Baseball," said Stephen D. Keener, Little League president and CEO. "Little League is a program for every child that desires to play, and all girls should have the opportunity to play the sports they love, especially baseball.

"Little League International strongly encourages each of our 6,500 affiliated programs to welcome and fully support the girls in their community to pick up a glove and a ball, join a team and have fun."

Said Abraham Key, president and CEO, PONY Baseball and Softball: "PONY Baseball fully supports the participation of girls in the great game of baseball. We encourage girls participation at all ages in baseball, and our leagues make every effort to be inclusive."

The Girls Baseball Breakthrough Series (GBBS) is a new, groundbreaking event specifically designed for the on-field development and scouting of female baseball players. A joint effort by MLB and USA Baseball, the GBBS is the newest iteration of the existing, diversity-focused amateur development camps operated by MLB, USA Baseball and USA Softball.

The event will serve as an opportunity for on-field development as well as a scouting showcase for dozens of girls, ages 17 and under, from around the country. Participants will receive daily instruction in an environment similar to an MLB Spring Training camp.

While traditionally more closely associated with playing softball, women and girls who aspire to play baseball has been, over more recent times, a growing, thriving trend. If girls are seeking role models in this area, they don't have to look far.

Justine Siegal, founder of the national organization Baseball for All, threw batting practice for several Major League teams during Spring Training in 2011, has been a coach for an independent league team and served as an instructor for the Oakland A's instructional league team in '15.

French shortstop Melissa Mayeux became the first woman to be added to MLB's international registration list in 2015, making her officially eligible to be signed by a Major League club.

In 2015, left-handed pitcher Sarah Hudek, daughter of former Major League pitcher John Hudek, became the first woman to receive a scholarship to play college baseball, spending one season with the Bossier Parish Community College squad.

In 2016, three women played for the independent league Sonoma Stompers -- outfielder/pitcher Kelsie Whitmore, infielder Stacy Piagno and catcher Anna Kimbrell.

The list goes on, and it continues to grow. The affirmation from the dozens of youth baseball organizations nationwide will only help speed up the effort.

"For over 90 years, American Legion Baseball has prided itself on creating a welcoming environment to all age-eligible players, regardless of gender, race or background," said Gary Stone, chairman of American Legion Baseball Committee. "From the first girl to pitch in an American Legion Baseball state tournament in 1928 to the first woman to coach at the American Legion World Series last year, American Legion Baseball is proud to see the impact women have had on our program, and we are excited to see the next chapter these trailblazers write in our history."

Alyson Footer is a national correspondent for MLB.com. Follow her on Twitter @alysonfooter.

NOLA Youth Academy trio reaches NHSI semifinal

Davis, Crum, Goins gain valuable experience at USA Baseball tourney
MLB.com

CARY, N.C. -- USA Baseball's National High School Invitational brings 16 of the best teams from around the country to Cary, N.C., in late March for a heavily scouted, four-day tournament teeming with young, talented players.

MLB Youth Academy

CARY, N.C. -- USA Baseball's National High School Invitational brings 16 of the best teams from around the country to Cary, N.C., in late March for a heavily scouted, four-day tournament teeming with young, talented players.

MLB Youth Academy

:: 2018 USA Baseball National High School Invitational ::

John Curtis Christian School (River Ridge, La.), last year's Class 5A Louisiana state champions, proved to be one of the top teams at this year's event, winning its first two games before falling to Green Hope (Cary) in the semifinals. And among the contributors on the Patriots squad were three members of the New Orleans Major League Baseball Youth Academy: Brandon Davis, Choncee Crum and Shane Goins.

Davis, a senior shortstop and the Patriots' leadoff hitter, impressed with his athleticism on both sides of the ball throughout the event, collecting three hits and two stolen bases over the course of the weekend.

Crum, a left-handed pitcher and outfielder, appeared in John Curtis' first two games as a courtesy runner. He and Davis combined to score both of the Patriots' runs in their 2-0 and 2-1 victories.

Goins, a sophomore outfielder and right-handed pitcher, stole a base after entering as a courtesy runner in the club's semifinal game on Friday before throwing 1 1/3 innings out of the bullpen in its last game on Saturday.

"It is always exciting to see Academy members play on a big stage when you know they have put in the work by training during the offseason," director Eddie Anthony Davis III said. "Hopefully our staff, professional coaches and scouts that visited the Academy offered instruction to these guys that left them with something to improve their game."

Opened in 2012 after the original facility was destroyed by Hurricane Katrina, the Youth Academy provides free baseball and softball instruction year-round as well as vocational programs such as broadcasting, field maintenance, umpiring, sports law and after-school homework assistance. The facility operates in conjunction with the New Orleans Recreation Development Commission to offer educational and baseball programming for youth in underserved communities throughout Southern Louisiana.

A member of the Academy since it opened five years ago, Davis is committed to play cornerback for the University of Tennessee next year, but has spent time training at the facility when not on the gridiron.

"It's really helped prepare us as players for the competition out here," he said. "I think it's really big for the young guys coming out here, given where we're from and our experience. We all just want to get better, and the Academy has helped me do that."

Goins also has been an Academy member since the facility's inception. He has participated in Major League Baseball's Elite Development Invitational and Reviving Baseball in Inner Cities (RBI) events and will play on the 2018 New Orleans Commissioners Cup Team.

"You get to learn a lot from the big guys there that you look up to," said Goins. "It's a lot of exposure to them, and when you see them, with all their success, it makes you want to be in that same spot, and you start to work hard like them. They all want you to be better than they were and keep trying to get to the next level."

Added Crum: "It really helped us get the feel how it is to be at the next level, to play like that and see new things."

Mike Rosenbaum is a reporter for MLB Pipeline. Follow him on Twitter at @GoldenSombrero.

Orange Lutheran repeats as NHSI champion

Lancers becomes second in tournament history to go back-to-back
MLB.com

CARY, N.C. -- Reigning National High School Invitational champion Orange Lutheran (Orange, Calif.) successfully defended its title on Saturday, defeating Green Hope (Cary, N.C.), 9-3, on Coleman Field at USA Baseball's National Training Complex.

CARY, N.C. -- Reigning National High School Invitational champion Orange Lutheran (Orange, Calif.) successfully defended its title on Saturday, defeating Green Hope (Cary, N.C.), 9-3, on Coleman Field at USA Baseball's National Training Complex.

:: 2018 USA Baseball National High School Invitational ::

The Lancers became just the second team to win back-to-back NHSI championships, joining Mater Dei (Santa Ana, Calif.), which claimed a pair of titles in the event's first two years (2012-13).

"What a great day, what a great week," Orange Lutheran head coach Eric Borba said after the game. "It's been a fun ride. USA Baseball does a tremendous job with this event, and to take home the trophy for a second straight year is an awesome feeling -- can't even describe it."

After failing to collect a hit through the first three innings against Green Hope starting pitcher Elmo Arimurti, Lutheran's offense finally came to life in the fourth inning as it erupted to score five runs on five hits while sending 11 batters to the plate.

Ranked as MLBPipeline's No. 42 Draft prospect, senior Cole Winn, who dominated on the mound in Lutheran's first-round victory, put the Lancers on the board when he plated junior outfielder Jasiah Dixon with a one-out double to the left-center-field gap. Junior Evan Adolphus tallied an RBI single two batters later before pinch-hitter Carl Lawson drove home a pair of runs with a single misplayed by Falcons left fielder Johnathon Ankner. Leadoff man and rising sophomore Chad Born followed with a single, while Caleb Ricketts, a senior catcher committed to UC San Diego, capped the Lancers' six-run frame with one of his own.

"Our offense did what they had to do," Borba said. "We played a couple tight games the last couple days in which we had to execute do the little things, and then today we were able to bust out with five or six hits in an inning and put up a crooked number and bring home that trophy."

The Lancers tacked on another run in the top of the fifth inning on Adolphus' second hit of the game -- a 102.5-mph single through the left side of the infield -- only to see Green Hope rally in the bottom of the frame to score three runs.

Liam McHale and pinch-hitter Joseph Nunn opened the inning with back-to-back singles and Ankner, the club's No. 9 hitter, drove home the Falcons' first run of the game with a double to left field. Second baseman Kevin Pitarra added an RBI single two batters later, and Connor Knapp pushed across Green Hope's final run of the frame on a fielder's choice to second base.

"Hats off to Green Hope," Borba said. "They had an amazing week and put up a heck of a fight. Those guys play the game the right way and it would have been really easy for them to fold down 6-0, but they have a lot of character and came right back and put some pressure on us and made it interesting."

Video: Orange Lutheran's five-run 4th inning at the NHSI

Lutheran went on to add three insurance runs in the top of the seventh inning, as a two-run knock from Winn and Adolphus' third RBI single of the game put Green Hope's chances of a potential comeback out of reach.

"I was just trying to stay through the middle," said Winn, who finished 2-for-3 with three RBIs. "I felt like the first two games I was trying to do too much, but the last couple I just relaxed and tried to put good swings on [the ball]."

Adolphus paced Lutheran's offense, going 3-for-4 with three-RBIs. Dixon and standout sophomore Max Rajcic scored two runs each and combined for three stolen bases.

"I just felt relaxed after popping up in my first at-bat," Adolphus said. "I was just trying to do what I could do and hit the ball back up the middle."

Video: Orange Lutheran's three-run 7th inning at the NHSI

Lancers reliever Johnny Guzman, a junior right-hander committed to San Diego State, retired the final seven batters -- sitting 85-87 mph with his running fastball -- to record the save, sparking Lutheran's second dog pile on Coleman Field in as many years. Starting pitcher Lonnie Morris, a senior left-hander, earned the win after allowing three earned runs over four innings. He displayed a lively fastball in the outing that topped out at 86 mph.

Altogether, seven Lutheran pitchers surrendered a combined six runs in the tournament and collectively posted a 1.50 ERA with 14 hits allowed in 28 innings.

"It starts with our pitching, it really does," Borba said. "We were able to shut down some very good offenses and good teams. We have a lot of confidence in our pitching staff, but they did what they needed to do, throwing strikes and trusting their stuff. To give up only six runs at a tournament like this, against the teams we played, speaks to our pitching and defense, which is what we stress."

Knapp was Green Hope's offensive standout in the loss, as he accounted for two of his team's seven hits. He finished the tournament with six hits and a .429 average, both tops among Falcons hitters.

Video: Green Hope scores three in the 5th at the NHSI

Jordyn Adams, one of the top performers at this year's tournament, was kept quiet at the plate on Saturday, but did receive some unexpected time on the mound. Pitching for the first time this season, the tooled-up, two-sport star reached 88 mph with his fastball, but also yielded four earned runs on four hits in 2 2/3 innings.

Although the Falcons came up short in their quest to upend last year's NHSI champions, the club still proved to be one of the event's more well-rounded teams, impressing fans, players and coaches alike.

"They did everything that good teams have to do," Borba said. "I watched them all week and it was just fun to watch. They didn't beat themselves; they made every play and had quality at-bats up and down the lineup and got strong pitching performances. That's a special team, and they're going to do a lot of good things. They represented the town of Cary well."

Calvary Christian 3, John Curtis Christian 0

Freshman right-hander Andrew Pointer fired a one-hit shutout with seven strikeouts to pace Calvary Christian (Ft. Lauderdale, Fla.) in its third NHSI win. A 6-foot-4, 195-pounder who is committed to Florida, Pointer carried a no-hit bid into the seventh inning before yielding a leadoff single. He bumped 87 mph with his fastball in the outing -- and was still hitting 83 mph in his final inning of work -- and showed good feel for a big 12-to-6 curveball in the mid-60s. Senior outfielder David Judge went 3-for-3 to lead the Eagles' offense.

Florence 9, Mater Dei 5

The top four hitters in Florence's (Florence, Ala.) lineup combined for six hits, six runs and seven RBIs as the Falcons scored all nine of their runs in the first three innings en route to their only NHSI win. Sophomore third baseman Ben Arnett, the team's three-hole hitter, went 3-for-3 with a pair of doubles and freshman catcher Zeke Bishop recorded a team-high three RBIs to lead the offense. Junior right-hander William Conrad worked four scoreless innings in relief before turning the ball over to freshman and LSU recruit Grant Taylor, who proceeded to open eyes with his 91 mph fastball, while pitching a scoreless frame. Shortstop Emilio Rosas hit a pair of doubles and third baseman Chad Call went 3-for-3 with a stolen base for Mater Dei (Santa Ana, Calif.).

Mount Carmel 6, Trinity Prep 0

Mount Carmel (Chicago, Ill.) starting pitcher Luke Pappas etched his name in the NHSI record books as he became the first player in the event's seven-year history to throw a no-hitter. Needing just 80 pitches (54 strikes) to accomplish the feat, the junior left-hander posted seven strikeouts against one walk, induced nine ground-ball outs and threw first-pitch strikes to 19 of the 23 batters he faced in the outing. Texas Christian-commit Alek Thomas, MLB Pipeline's No. 49 overall Draft prospect, had another strong game, going 1-for-2 with a triple and a walk. Edward Howard, a sophomore committed to Oklahoma, and Joey Egan each tallied two hits and scored one run from the bottom of the Caravan lineup.

George Jenkins 5, Santiago 0

A trio of George Jenkins (Lakeland, Fla.) pitchers combined to throw a five-hit shutout as the Eagles won their third game of the tournament. Starting pitcher Jackson Ross, a senior right-hander, was particularly effective, allowing just three hits while striking out five over five innings. Florida Gulf Coast commit Brandt Sundean led the Eagles offensively with a double and two RBIs in a 2-for-3 performance. Overall, the 6-foot-4 left-handed hitter posted a .571 average (8-for-14) with five RBIs at this year's NHSI. Santiago shortstop Brice Turang, MLB Pipeline's No. 7 Draft prospect, recorded his second straight multihit game to finish the tournament with a .545 average (6-for-11).

American Heritage 4, Sandra Day O'Connor 3

Cory Acton worked three scoreless innings out of the bullpen for Heritage (Plantation, Fla.) before walking it off with a single in the bottom of the seventh. It capped a 2-for-4 day at the plate for the Florida commit, who had hit a one-hop double off the right-field wall earlier in the contest. No. 39 overall Draft prospect Triston Casas and leadoff man Enrique Bradfield also doubled for the Patriots, with the latter ultimately finishing 2-for-4 with a stolen base and the game-winning run. Sophomore Jordan Carrion, a shortstop committed to Florida, started on the mound and struck out eight batters in four innings while operating with a low- to mid-80s fastball.

Hanover 7, Hattiesburg 5

Senior Colby Hutnan filled out the box score by going 2-for-2 with two walks, two runs scored, two RBIs and two stolen bases in his perfect day at the plate for Hanover (Mechanicsville, Va.). Designated hitter Will Bowles, a junior, also scored two runs while coaxing three walks. No. 40 overall Draft prospect Joe Gray Jr., a Mississippi commit, put a bow on his impressive NHSI showing by going 1-for-2 with two runs scored, two walks and a steal in Hattiesburg's (Hattiesburg, Miss.) loss. Sophomore leadoff hitter Kadarius Hicks collected two hits and matched Gray's performance with two runs scored and a steal.

Walton 12, Mountain Ridge 2

The Raiders (Glendale, Ariz.) pushed across nine runs in the first two innings -- scoring five runs in the first inning and four in the second -- in their run-rule rout of Mountain Ridge (Glendale, Ariz.). Junior shortstop Pierce Gallo hit three ringing doubles, scored two runs and drove in two more to pace a Walton offense that had all but one starter collect a hit in the contest. The Clemson recruit finished the NHSI with a .636 average (7-for-11) and .750 on-base percentage.

Mike Rosenbaum is a reporter for MLB Pipeline. Follow him on Twitter at @GoldenSombrero.

Royals launch Urban Youth Academy in KC

Special to MLB.com

KANSAS CITY -- Two years ago, standing before the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum with a shovel and a hard hat, Dayton Moore had a grand vision for the youth of the greater Kansas City area.

That vision called for a state-of-the-art baseball, softball and education facility situated in the historic 18th and Vine District. Roll the tape forward to Thursday, when Moore's idea was realized with a ribbon-cutting ceremony that officially opened the Kansas City Urban Youth Academy.

KANSAS CITY -- Two years ago, standing before the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum with a shovel and a hard hat, Dayton Moore had a grand vision for the youth of the greater Kansas City area.

That vision called for a state-of-the-art baseball, softball and education facility situated in the historic 18th and Vine District. Roll the tape forward to Thursday, when Moore's idea was realized with a ribbon-cutting ceremony that officially opened the Kansas City Urban Youth Academy.

"I wasn't sure we would ever win a championship here in Kansas City," the Royals' general manager said. "But I did know that we had a special obligation to grow the game of baseball and softball in this great city."

As time marched on and talks grew increasingly passionate about the proposed academy, Moore's commitment was unwavering.

"I said, 'We would rather have an Urban Youth Academy in Kansas City than win the World Series,'" Moore recalled. "Well, we got both."

The Kansas City Urban Youth Academy is the eighth associated with Major League Baseball. On behalf of MLB and Commissioner Rob Manfred, the project was saluted by Tony Reagins, MLB Executive Vice President of Baseball & Softball Development.

"This [facility] is all we imagined," Reagins said. "It's about coming together for the right thing -- for kids. If you can do that, the sky is the limit. This is not just about baseball and softball -- it's about enrichment and building young lives."

The sprawling complex features four outdoor turf fields, an educational press box and a 38,000-square-foot indoor facility that includes a turf infield, four batting tunnels, four classrooms and an athletic training room. The $21 million building project was completed after a groundbreaking in April 2016.

Tweet from @KC_UYA: This morning, we celebrated the official Grand Opening of the KCUYA! Special thank you to @MLB @Royals @MayorSlyJames @KCMO @KCMOParks @Populous @JEDunn and a host of donors and contributors to this amazing project! pic.twitter.com/0CSnfx9Nnf

"As we open this facility, we are going to bridge the gap in our community with the urban, suburban and rural parts of Kansas City," Moore said. "We are going to bring people together. Yes, it's the love of baseball. But it's the love of each other that makes this a special, special day."

While acknowledging the movers and shakers who pushed the massive project along, Kansas City mayor Sly James emphasized that the primary motivating force for all was a commitment to help the youth find solid footing for their journey in life.

"Leadership is a developed trait," James said. "When I am standing here, I know this place is going to develop leaders. Dayton made it very clear that if there are some people who make it to the Major Leagues, that's fantastic. If there are kids who make it to college, that's outstanding.

"And there will be some kids who none of those things will happen to. But they will all have been better for having been here, working with people who care about them, care about their character."

The Grand Opening celebration continues Saturday from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. CT. The Open House and Day of Play will feature a Western Athletic Conference softball game between the University of Missouri-Kansas City and New Mexico State University, as well as baseball games featuring local high schools and the local RBI programs. The day will also include baseball and softball instructional clinics and family activities.

Robert Falkoff is a contributor to MLB.com.

Kansas City Royals