Kids Play Ball before AFL Fall Stars rise

October 13th, 2019

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- Jamaal Kersey waited his turn in a line of energetic kids to catch a squishy, oversized baseball with his bare hands.

He looked over the to the next station on one of the Rockies’ Spring Training fields, eyed the home run derby drill and pronounced that he could hit a ball over the high fence about 30 feet from where other kids lined up to take their cuts.

The 13-year-old Phoenix resident plays basketball and football, but Kersey likes baseball the best. “It’s more safe for your body,” he said.

Kersey joined hundreds of kids from the greater Phoenix area at Saturday’s annual Play Ball event that preceded the Arizona Fall League’s Fall Stars Game at Salt River Fields.

No gloves, bats or other equipment were needed. Kids received an event T-shirt, then they rotated between five stations on the field, including agility, baserunning, hitting pitches (the home run derby), a mini-game led by former Major League pitcher Bruce Chen, and catching fly balls.

Chen had three rules. The first being that every child stand against the wall when another is hitting, the second to not throw the bat when running to first base, and the third to just have fun.

“When they hit the ball, they get a big smile running the bases, trying to tag the runner out, it just shows you how fun the game is,” Chen said, “and how you should be enjoying it so much.

“This is the pure form of baseball. This is how we played when I was young. We didn’t have aluminum bats, we didn’t have helmets, we played with tennis balls,” Chen added.

Major League prospects Tyler Stephenson (Reds' No. 7 prospect per MLB Pipeline) and Marcus Wilson (No. 17 prospect for Red Sox) offered inspiration before the activities began. Both were in the starting lineup for the West All-Stars later on Saturday.

MLB vice president of baseball and softball development David James served as MC for the event. He said there are Play Ball events across the country year round, with each Major League club hosting one during the season in an effort to get more kids and families engaged in the game.

“There’s really no pressure. We just want them to come out, have fun, play with other kids," James said. "We always stress that for the kids who aren’t playing in a formal league, come to a Play Ball event and have fun. However they play ball ... play ball.”

Kersey’s final drill of the afternoon was the home run derby. And just as he predicted, he drove a blue baseball over the fence and onto the dirt beyond it, smiling as he held his bat aloft.

“We tell our clinicians it’s all right to do bat flips,” James said. “Let’s have fun with it.”

At the end of the 90-minute event, the kids lined up to receive a plastic or hard foam bat and ball set, packs of baseball cards, a D-backs cap and a ticket to the Fall Stars game. The items and activities were free of charge.

Dallas Pymm said he brought his son Luke to the event just to play more baseball, even after Luke’s game earlier in the day.

“Just as much baseball exposure as possible,” Pymm said. “He loves to play and it’s fun watching him get better and better, and work harder and harder. It’s an awesome free event and you can’t beat that.”