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Johnson in attendance at Marlins Play Ball event

Former Marlins player 'thankful' to return to site where son played T-ball
MLB.com @JoeFrisaro

PEMBROKE PINES, Fla. -- On the same fields Charles Johnson's son once played, the former All-Star catcher took part in assisting children during a Play Ball initiative on Friday morning.

Johnson met with and instructed dozens of boys and girls at Flamingo Park in the fourth Play Ball event conducted by the Marlins this week.

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PEMBROKE PINES, Fla. -- On the same fields Charles Johnson's son once played, the former All-Star catcher took part in assisting children during a Play Ball initiative on Friday morning.

Johnson met with and instructed dozens of boys and girls at Flamingo Park in the fourth Play Ball event conducted by the Marlins this week.

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"It's awesome for these young kids to come out and get outside and run bases, hit baseballs and throw," Johnson said. "That's what the Play Ball initiative is all about. Getting young kids out, introducing them to baseball. Getting young girls out. They may be the new generation of softball girls. These are the new generation of baseball kids. It's all about getting them out and introducing them to the game. I really love this initiative, Play Ball."

Major League Baseball, Minor League Baseball and the United States Conference of Mayors are spending the summer hosting youth-focused baseball and softball events.

Johnson can relate to many of the kids he mingled with on Friday. He grew up in Fort Pierce, Fla., and played at the University of Miami before being drafted by the Marlins. He once played on similar fields in Florida, and he went on to become an All-Star catcher and World Series champion in 1997 with the Marlins.

Earlier in the week, the Marlins conducted similar events in Miami-Dade County, with former players Placido Polanco, Alfredo Amezaga and Antonio Alfonseca taking part.

On Friday, Johnson and Marlins personnel, including mascot Billy the Marlin, interacted with youth players on a steamy South Florida day.

"This place is dear to my heart," said Johnson, whose son first played T-ball at Flamingo Park. "I'm just very thankful and happy to come back here and celebrate Play Ball today."

Also on hand was Pembroke Pines mayor Frank Ortis.

"We tell our kids in Pines and every other city, educate as far as you can," Ortis said. "Make sure you do all of your education, but you have to recreate."

At the fields, there was music, dancing and baseball. Johnson offered instruction on hitting and baserunning. He posed for plenty of pictures, and he signed autographs.

"It's huge," Ortis said of having a former big leaguer at the complex. "He's an All-Star."

The mayor also tested his arm, throwing off the mound.

"We love the arts in our city," Ortis said. "We love our ballparks. Get out and have fun, because that's what the whole spectrum is -- hard work and have fun."

Joe Frisaro has covered the Marlins for MLB.com since 2002. Follow him on Twitter @JoeFrisaro and listen to his podcast.

Miami Marlins