PHILADELPHIA -- Kids from across the Philadelphia area had the opportunity of a lifetime on Tuesday afternoon at Citizens Bank Park.
As part of the PLAY (Promoting a Lifetime of Activity for Youth) campaign, boys and girls from local youth groups had the chance to take the field to participate in drills and play games before being addressed by star pitcher Aaron Nola. Some even got to stick around to watch the Phillies take batting practice before their series opener against the Marlins and meet some of their favorite players.
Put it all together and it's an experience that even Nola himself wished he had gotten as a child.
"As a kid, I never got a chance to do what they're doing right now on a Major League field," said Nola, who grew up in Baton Rouge, La., and said his only experience attending big league games was traveling to Houston to sit in the nosebleeds at Astros games. "I was never able to do that, but I know it's so cool for them. I just got to tell them to enjoy it while they can, because they're seeing some of their favorite players take batting practice and they're able to meet them and stuff like that. That's pretty cool."
The PLAY campaign was created in 2004 by the Professional Baseball Athletic Trainers Society (PBATS) with the intention of raising awareness about childhood health issues and disability inclusion in the United States. In the 18 years since, the campaign has conducted more than 400 events inside all 30 Major League ballparks.
Along with their session with Nola, the kids also heard from members of the Phillies' training staff on a day when the temperature was just shy of 100 degrees -- and the heat index approached 110 degrees.
"Our main message was just learning how to take care of themselves and learning how to eat correctly," said assistant athletic trainer Aaron Hoback. "It was a lot of learning how to eat correctly, stay hydrated -- especially with the heat right now -- and playing multiple sports. Get out and try different avenues. We really preach a variety for those kids."
Nola, who said he took advantage of any opportunity to play outside as a kid, sent a similar message.
"Just get outside and play. The more sports you play, the better off you'll be," Nola said. "And if you keep playing sports, especially baseball, you're going to meet your friends for life, whether it's in high school, college or professional."