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Ex-MLBer Johnson talks Play Ball with mayors

Former Marlin extols virtues of program that looks to extend to 250 cities
MLB.com

Twenty years after he helped lead the Marlins to their first World Series title -- and the first by a Wild Card team -- former catcher Charles Johnson spoke to the U.S. Conference of Mayors in Miami this past week and delivered a message about his favorite sport:

"This Play Ball initiative is a wonderful thing for our young kids. I started playing baseball in the backyard with my cousins with a broomstick, and hitting tennis balls and dates, and that's how I started playing baseball when I was a youth. This Play Ball initiative is one of the greatest things I think Major League Baseball has definitely come up with.

Twenty years after he helped lead the Marlins to their first World Series title -- and the first by a Wild Card team -- former catcher Charles Johnson spoke to the U.S. Conference of Mayors in Miami this past week and delivered a message about his favorite sport:

"This Play Ball initiative is a wonderful thing for our young kids. I started playing baseball in the backyard with my cousins with a broomstick, and hitting tennis balls and dates, and that's how I started playing baseball when I was a youth. This Play Ball initiative is one of the greatest things I think Major League Baseball has definitely come up with.

"I want to say to all of you mayors out there, you go home and take that Play Ball initiative and really go for it, because it's going to help a lot of young kids in our communities, it's going to do a lot of great things for our young kids, so I would say thank you for having me."

On Friday, the results were more promising than ever as Major League Baseball, Minor League Baseball and the USCM announced that a record of more than 250 mayors in the U.S. and Puerto Rico will be hosting Play Ball-themed, youth-focused events in their communities through August. Baseball and softball will be a summertime theme for kids in towns all over.

They range in size from Perry, Ga. (Mayor James Faircloth, Jr.) to New York City (Mayor Bill de Blasio) to San Francisco (Mayor Ed Lee). They range alphabetically from Aguadilla, Puerto Rico (Mayor Carlos Mendez Martinez) to Yuba City, Calif. (Mayor Stanley Cleveland Jr.). Many mayors in attendance at the conference posed for pictures with Johnson and the 1997 World Series trophy, a fitting prelude for All-Star Week coming to Miami in about a week.

"We launched Play Ball a couple of years ago in collaboration with Major League Baseball, and through this program we have been working on introducing newer generations of young people to the games of baseball and softball," said Oklahoma City, Okla., Mayor Mick Cornett, the current USCM president. "I'm proud to say that the program has been a great success. Last year we had over 200 cities across the country participate in Play Ball. We're entering our third summer in Play Ball, and this year our goal is over 250 cities to participate."

In addition to 16 cities in Puerto Rico, mayors in 43 U.S. states and Washington D.C. have committed to this Play Ball Summer effort. Additional mayors/cities are expected to join the effort in the coming weeks.

In 2016, more than 200 mayors hosted at least 22,000 kids in Play Ball events in their communities.

"The beauty of the national pastime is that it can be played in many different ways," said Tom Brasuell, MLB's vice president of community affairs. "Our mission, through events like Play Ball, is to introduce these different ways to help foster a love of the game that children will carry into young adulthood and beyond, as players, fans or both."

Visit playball.org for more information.

Mark Newman is enterprise editor of MLB.com and a baseball writer since 1990. Follow him @Marathoner and read and join other baseball fans on his MLB.com/blogs hub.