NEW YORK -- For 6-year-old Gabriel, the chance to spend an afternoon in the Citi Field outfield was a dream come true. Not only that, but to hang out with Mets reliever Neil Ramirez and infielder T.J. Rivera was a real treat for him and about 60 members of Elmjack
NEW YORK -- For 6-year-old Gabriel, the chance to spend an afternoon in the Citi Field outfield was a dream come true. Not only that, but to hang out with Mets reliever Neil Ramirez and infielder T.J. Rivera was a real treat for him and about 60 members of Elmjack Little League, which operates just 10 minutes west of Citi Field on the other side of LaGuardia Airport in Queens.
The afternoon was the Mets' marquee event during Play Ball Weekend. Play Ball is an initiative that encourages widespread participation in both formal and casual baseball and softball activities. The kids on Saturday hit off a tee under the watchful eye of Mets bench coach Dick Scott, fielded grounders with Rivera and stopped by a pitching station for tips from Ramirez.
"I really liked the hitting," Gabriel said.
Ramirez said being on a big league field is something the kids should take advantage of and will always remember.
"As a kid, I would have loved to have that opportunity," Ramirez said. "It's cool that they do this. I think just teaching the kids of getting outside and moving around, man. I think that's kind of a lost thing in this generation, and it's good to have these kids out here running around."
Mets public address announcer Alex Anthony asked the participants' parents, who watched from the right-field seats, if there were any future big leaguers on the field. His question was met with playful cheers, and because they all may not make it to the Majors one day, Rivera appreciated being part of the experience.
"I enjoy doing things like this," Rivera said. "I'm sure Neil does, as well. Just to give the kids an experience like this, it means a lot to them I think."
To connect with one of his groups at the pitching station, Ramirez asked the kids if they used various forms of social media, like Instagram or Snapchat. Naturally, the kids responded in the affirmative to those popular applications, but when Ramirez mentioned AOL instant messenger, he was met with silence, other than a laugh from himself. The common denominator, he realized, was baseball.
"It's a sport that's been around in this country for a long time," Ramirez said. "I think it's an opportunity for everybody to get out here and have fun."
Rivera echoed Ramirez and discussed the importance of kids staying active, especially in an era when technology and social media consumes a considerable part of our daily lives.
"Any sport is an opportunity to give some kids a chance to get outside," Rivera said. "Even if it's softball, or Wiffle ball, or if it's just playing with your buddies, stickball, I think it's important for these kids to get outside."
After the clinic, Scott, Ramirez and Rivera signed autographs for the kids, who also left with tickets to a future Mets game to cap off the afternoon.
The second annual Play Ball Weekend features a variety of youth engagement activities by nearly 200 Major League and Minor League clubs to highlight the fun of youth baseball and softball. It is a complementary program of the Play Ball initiative, designed by MLB to celebrate youth baseball and softball participation. MLB has provided clubs with more than 300,000 youth plastic bat and ball sets to distribute in both ballparks and at community events.
Many MLB clubs are hosting skills and physical fitness clinics as well as surprise "takeovers" of youth baseball and softball games or practices featuring appearances by Major League players, alumni, mascots, public address announcers and more. Activities will include kids participating in special news conferences, pregame meet-and-greets and catches with players, ceremonial first pitches, public address duties, lineup card exchanges, taking the field with players, postgame running the bases and more. Major League players, coaches and managers will wear Play Ball Weekend patches during the weekend's games, and players on home clubs will wear custom T-shirts during batting practice on the date of their club's activations.
Chris Bumbaca is a reporter for MLB.com based in New York.