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Connection to youth baseball important to Mariners

Club makes it a priority to promote game through outreach in Pacific Northwest
MLB.com @gregjohnsmlb

SEATTLE -- When Rob Manfred took over as the new Commissioner of Major League Baseball in January, one of the first priorities he mentioned was the need to work closely with youth and amateur baseball programs around the country to foster the continued growth of the game. That message was well received by the Mariners, a franchise that has always worked to stay connected with Little League and community groups in the Pacific Northwest.

For Mariners president Kevin Mather, it's both a personal and a professional interest. Mather, who grew up in Wisconsin, knows his own connection to the game began at an early age when he first made the 90-mile trip with his family to a game at County Stadium in Milwaukee.

SEATTLE -- When Rob Manfred took over as the new Commissioner of Major League Baseball in January, one of the first priorities he mentioned was the need to work closely with youth and amateur baseball programs around the country to foster the continued growth of the game. That message was well received by the Mariners, a franchise that has always worked to stay connected with Little League and community groups in the Pacific Northwest.

For Mariners president Kevin Mather, it's both a personal and a professional interest. Mather, who grew up in Wisconsin, knows his own connection to the game began at an early age when he first made the 90-mile trip with his family to a game at County Stadium in Milwaukee.

"I was 7 years old," Mather said. "It was a rain-delayed doubleheader that I will never forget. Now I have three boys that all played the game competitively at some level. I was even convinced to coach and umpire at the local Little League in Sammamish [Wash.]. Someday I expect and hope to be doing that again, perhaps with grandkids."

Mather believes it only makes sense to attract more kids to the game, knowing that attachment can resonate for a lifetime.

"Research has shown the number one determinant of: one, a lifelong fan; two, a parent that will teach his children to play baseball; three, a parent that will coach youth baseball; and four, a person who will mentor and teach someone the nuances of the game is if they played youth baseball or softball as a kid," Mather said. "And the earlier, the better."

As the only Major League franchise in the Pacific Northwest, the Mariners have made it part of their business to help promote the game from the grass roots.

The team works closely with all 13 Little League districts in Washington, and the club is expanding its outreach to leagues in Oregon and British Columbia. About 100 teams from around the Northwest participate in the Mariners' four Little League days at Safeco Field each year.

The Mariners also recognize the Little League boys and girls state champions in the 11/12-year-old division each year with a pregame ceremony and the chance to watch batting practice on the field and enjoy a pregame pizza dinner.

They annually provide about 500-600 Little League All-Stars with a Mariners-branded All-Star T-shirt for boys in the 9/10 and 11/12 age divisions and girls in the 11/12 bracket, and they also support numerous teams and districts with fundraising efforts through the nonprofit Mariners Care foundation.

The club also works with the Boys & Girls Club in support of the Reviving Baseball in Inner Cities (RBI) program, which is an MLB-wide initiative that makes baseball and softball available to kids at no cost, as well as helping with the annual Pitch, Hit & Run skills competition program for kids ages 7-14.

At the higher age level, the Mariners hosted the High School Baseball Classic this spring for the ninth year in a row, with 16 area prep teams given the chance to play games at Safeco Field in March and April.

And some of the Mariners' players and athletic trainers took part in the national PLAY (Promoting a Lifetime of Activity for Youth) campaign, working with children from the Seattle RBI League and local Boys & Girls Clubs for an afternoon at Safeco Field last fall.

As Major League players often say, "We're lucky to still be playing a kid's game." And the Mariners haven't forgotten where that game begins.

Greg Johns is a reporter for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter @GregJohnsMLB as well as his Mariners Musings blog.

This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

Seattle Mariners