The hours leading up to Opening Day often include news of crucial contract extensions.
Major League Baseball has one, too.
Ahead of the season’s first pitch, MLB and the Boys & Girls Clubs of America announced the five-year renewal of a partnership that dates back a quarter century.
To mark the 25th anniversary of the relationship between the organizations, MLB has pledged $5 million to BGCA in support of youth baseball and softball initiatives, career readiness and workforce development efforts, a national public service announcement and BGCA programs throughout the season.
“Over the last 25 years, Boys & Girls Clubs of America has offered Major League Baseball and our Clubs the opportunity to make a positive impact in the lives of young people throughout the country,” Commissioner Rob Manfred said. “Together, we have introduced baseball and softball to young people, improved the clubs where they learn and play and provided unforgettable experiences to children in our communities. We hope our partnership with the Boys & Girls Clubs of America will continue to inspire young people to dream big and help them recognize their unlimited potential.”
The news carries special meaning for Tony Reagins, MLB’s Chief Baseball Development Officer. In his role overseeing MLB’s involvement with amateur baseball and softball -- across the U.S. and internationally -- Reagins uses many of the skills he learned at the Boys & Girls Club of Coachella Valley in California.
“I grew up in the club,” Reagins said in an interview with MLB.com. “The Boys & Girls Clubs were instrumental in developing leadership qualities during my childhood. That’s where we learned how to play sports, how I attended my first professional sports game, how I went on my first camping trip, the reason I took my first flight on an airplane.”
Reagins, 54, has had an association with BGCA since he was 8 years old. He credits his mother, Polly, with encouraging him to spend time at the Coachella Valley club after Tony's father passed away when he was 4 years old. At the club, Reagins encountered three mentors who changed his life: Dave Ison, Grady Gordon and Jim Ducatte.
Reagins remains involved with BGCA as a member of the local board in Coachella Valley and the national board, as well. He also organizes an annual golf tournament in his native Southern California -- with which Ison and Ducatte remain involved -- to raise funds for youth at the local club to apply toward postsecondary education.
The occasion for Reagins’ first airplane trip, at age 14, illustrates the ability of Boys & Girls Clubs to change the lives of young people: Reagins and fellow members of his local Keystone Club, which focuses on teen-directed leadership activities, organized dances every month that raised funds for community initiatives. The success led to a national award and the group flew from California to Washington, D.C., to accept the honor.
“Creativity was a huge part of what we did,” Reagins recalled. “We had to accomplish something together. We had to generate ideas, communicate about how to implement them and then put the plans into action. We learned those skills at a very young age. Here I am 40 years later and those skills are still relevant to me today. They’ve gotten me to where I am.
“And it wasn’t just me. It was all of us. The members of that Keystone Club had the same mentality. We communicated well with each other and we had a great support system. Most of our friends were African-American and Dave, Grady and Jim are all white males. It didn’t matter where everyone came from. My mom trusted them with my upbringing. We leaned heavily on those three guys and they were instrumental in guiding us.”
Reagins, who drafted Mike Trout during his tenure as Angels general manager, sees parallels between BGCA’s core values and the way pro baseball clubhouses unite players of diverse backgrounds.
“I’ve been fortunate and blessed to be part of many clubhouses in my career, to have put together clubs in the Minor Leagues and you see such great diversity,” Reagins said. “You have individuals who were the best players in their communities, all walking into the same clubhouse ... they develop the ability to relate and communicate with each other. Even though they don’t speak the same language, they speak the language of baseball.
“Our sport is unique in that way. I’m so happy to play my part in helping to continue bringing folks together.”
While BGCA is often recognized for its strong outreach to minority communities, Reagins said the clubs are designed for all children, ages 7 to 18, who are interested in after-school programs that connect them to their peers and communities.
BGCA has done extensive work to adapt to the realities of COVID-19 over the past year, by expanding its virtual offerings and offering emotional support to young people who, as Reagins said, “are dealing with loss in a significant way for possibly the first time in their lives -- whether it’s financial [hardships], the loss of a loved one, or not interacting with schoolmates.” Recently, BGCA launched a committee dedicated to diversity, equity and inclusion, which are central to the clubs’ mission.
And through the MLB-BGCA partnership, access to baseball fields and equipment remain at the core of the organization’s identity, just as it was for Reagins during his childhood.
“To me, baseball and the Boys & Girls Clubs are synonymous with one another,” Reagins said. “That’s where I learned how to play the game and we’re working to make sure that connection is prevalent into the future.”