ITTA BENA, Miss. -- Major League Baseball made its final Play Ball stop of the HBCU tour when it visited Mississippi Valley State University on Saturday.
In the heart of the Mississippi Delta, MLB representatives and coaches and players from MVSU put on a free baseball/softball clinic for boys and girls ages 4-12. There were over 100 children in attendance for the clinic, which was a first at Mississippi Valley.
Stanley Stubbs, the head coach of the Delta Devils baseball program, jumped at the idea of hosting the event.
“I found out about Play Ball through a good friend of mine, Antonio Grissom, who is the coach at Morehouse College,” said Stubbs. “He said it was something we needed to do here at Mississippi Valley.
“Just look around at the turnout. We have kids from all over the Delta here, and they are here with their parents and family. There’s no better way to spend a Saturday morning than at the ballpark with family. This was a great opportunity for us to show off our facilities and to meet some really fine young men.”
Members of the MVSU baseball team volunteered to work at the various stations during the camp. There were agility drills, a home run derby competition, baserunning drills and several other stations for the kids to get instruction from the Valley players.
“When it was explained to me what this program was all about, I said, count us in," said Stubbs. "This is such a great way to reach the inner-city kids and those in rural areas. Our guys have been looking forward to helping with this program for weeks. You can see how much fun they are having working with these kids.”
Jan Tolentino, a senior catcher for Mississippi Valley, was all smiles as he helped kids in certain drills.
“This is all about teaching the next generation how to have fun playing the game of baseball,” he said. “I remember being their age and just wanting to play ball. I was always looking for someone to go outside with me and play.
“Baseball is a great sport. I’ve been fortunate enough to get to play in college, and I just want these kids to know how much fun they can have playing baseball.”
One of the children in attendance, 7-year-old Channing Bell from nearby Cleveland, Miss., was having a blast.
“This is so much fun. I’m enjoying everything,” Bell said. “I really liked the home run derby.”
MLB vice president of baseball and softball development David James, one of two representatives of the Play Ball event, noted how much the HBCU tour has developed over the years.
“We started going to HBCUs early in 2020, and we held our first event at Florida A&M,” said James, who has been with the organization for 14 years. “We felt like it was important for children to see that being a student-athlete is attainable.
“Mississippi Valley is the last stop on our HBCU tour. This has been a great thing for this area. We are very pleased with the turnout.”
Joining James at the event in Itta Bena was Bennett Shields, the senior manager for the baseball/softball program. Shields said the program actually started in 2015 and it has grown every year.
“This is something Major League Baseball has been doing all over the world,” said Shields. “We’re really enjoying the HBCU tour because we are reaching so many children and giving them a chance to experience baseball and be taught by college student-athletes.
“I’ve worked in the league office for 16 years and worn many different hats. This is one of the things I truly love. We are giving back to the communities and hopefully getting kids interested in playing baseball and softball. I love seeing the passion and commitment from everyone involved. Mississippi Valley’s players and coaches have been very involved in helping with this event. It’s been a good day.”