Doc attends Mets' youth event in Queens

July 2nd, 2021

Major League Baseball and the New York Mets partnered with the Greater Allen Cathedral of New York to host a Play Ball event in Jamaica, N.Y., on June 26. At St. Albans Park, just down the block from the church, local youths participated in baseball and softball activities, including a home run derby, running the bases and other fun-focused drills. The event was free for all, and young participants were given T-shirts, wristbands and bat-and-ball sets.

Of the estimated 100-plus people in attendance, about half were kids, and for many of them, their parents said it was their first time playing baseball or softball.

“The crux of the Play Ball initiative is getting new kids exposed to baseball and softball,” said Bennett Shields, MLB’s senior manager of baseball and softball development.

“Knowing that for so many kids at this one, it was their first time playing, it was all smiles. A couple of kids were able to step into it at the home run derby station, hit a few out, so it was exciting to see that.”

Through the Play Ball initiative, MLB partners with local groups -- including current and former MLB players, Black churches and other community organizations -- to encourage youth participation in bat-and-ball sports. Since 2014, the year before Play Ball was launched, casual participation in baseball has increased by over 88%.

Special guests highlighted the event: mascots Mr. and Mrs. Met helped throw batting practice, and Mets legend Dwight “Doc” Gooden dispensed baseball wisdom to the youth participants and their parents. Employees from MLB and the Mets’ business resource groups also came to help out with baseball activities.

“It was just fantastic to have the participation of the Mets, to have the participation of Dwight Gooden and to have participation specifically from the MLB Black Professionals BRG and the New York Mets Black Professionals BRG,” Shields said.

MLB began outreach to Black churches last year, when chief baseball development officer Tony Reagins challenged his department to focus on bringing the game to Black communities. Shields said Reagins, who grew up as part of a predominantly Black congregation, suggested churches as a good place to start.

“Introducing and reinvigorating baseball and softball in the Black community is really an important goal in our department,” Shields said, “and something that we’re very intentional about.”

In the past year, MLB has partnered with over a dozen predominantly Black churches to host Play Ball events, most of them drive-through bat-and-ball set giveaways due to the constraints of the COVID-19 pandemic. MLB first partnered with the Greater Allen Cathedral last year and hopes to work with the church again to host future events.

“It was, for me, really heartening to see that continuation,” Shields said. “It was great to see the folks from Allen Cathedral again, they’re wonderful partners on it.

“This was hopefully the continuation of some really important relationships we’ve made with the faith community, specifically the Black faith community, and hopefully it will continue from here.”