Globe iconLogin iconRecap iconSearch iconTickets icon
news

MLB News

Play Ball, RBI initiatives merge in N.C., Montana

@alysonfooter
April 29, 2019

Since the inception of Major League Baseball's Play Ball initiative in 2015, the goal has been to bring the game to the kids -- no matter where they live. That meant expanding the outreach beyond Major League cities. MLB got the U.S. Conference of Mayors involved, and they all pledged

Since the inception of Major League Baseball's Play Ball initiative in 2015, the goal has been to bring the game to the kids -- no matter where they live.

That meant expanding the outreach beyond Major League cities. MLB got the U.S. Conference of Mayors involved, and they all pledged to hold Play Ball events in cities from coast to coast, corner to corner and beyond borders.

Two such events took place over the weekend, in areas a considerable distance from the nearest Major League city. On Saturday, MLB, along with the City of Charlotte (N.C.) and the Triple-A affiliate Charlotte Knights, co-hosted a Play Ball event at Newell Park.

A similar event took place on Sunday at Dehler Park in Billings, Mont. -- hosted by MLB and Montana Baseball RBI.

"We're trying to offer kids other things to do as individual players, so it's cool to work with MLB and RBI to give us those opportunities," said Wendy Warren, director of Montana Baseball.

Play Ball, MLB's signature youth engagement activity, is free and open to the public and features hundreds of kids engaging in fun and informal baseball and softball activities.

The weekend events brought together two groups of young people who have been a focus of MLB for years: the kids who participate in the Play Ball events, and players from the RBI programs (Reviving Baseball in Inner Cities) who helped run the clinics.

"They had a ball on both sides -- from the clinician side to the kids that aspire to be like them," said Morris Madden, a former Major League pitcher who is now the CEO of Carolinas Metro RBI. "At least 10 parents came up to me wanting to know more about our RBI program here, what can they do to get involved."

At the Play Ball events, kids were given tutorials in the areas of hitting, baserunning and speed, and agility. There was also a home run derby, and an area where a regular baseball game was played.

The end goal at these events is simple – expose the kids to baseball, give them a place to play, and, most importantly, encourage them to just have fun.

The hope is that giving kids positive baseball exposure at a young age will instill a love for baseball that will make them fans for life. The efforts are working -- in the past three years, baseball and softball combined to rank as the most participated team sports in the United States, with 25.6 million kids playing in 2018. According to the Topline Participation Report produced by the Sports & Fitness Industry Association, baseball has seen a 52.8 percent rise in casual participation since the launch of the Play Ball initiative.

Melding Play Ball with the RBI program makes sense. RBI has been a staple of MLB’s youth baseball efforts for decades, incorporating life skills into its baseball and softball instruction.

Madden spends as much time teaching life skills to the kids he mentors as he does coaching baseball. His program involves reading proficiency, preparing for college and teaching kids what to expect when they take the SAT and ACT.

"We make sure the kids that come into the program are well-rounded to make them greater citizens," Madden said. "We're not here to make the next Derek Jeter. We are here to make sure they are productive citizens when they get into the workforce."

Even for kids who won't make it to the pros, the basic concepts of baseball, and sports, can have a long-lasting influence on a young person. Leadership, teamwork and facing adversity are all things a kid can learn about through the simple act of playing a sport.

In that respect, baseball's far-reaching efforts to grow the game is resonating everywhere, including RBI-sponsored cities that are now incorporating Play Ball into their youth events.

"They learn to compete for a spot and that not everybody gets to start all the time," Warren said. "When you make a mistake, you learn to put it in your pocket and move on. Baseball can generate a really good attitude toward life. They fail so many times. It's not as big of a deal. My son always says, 'Big whoop.' Throw it away and keep going."

Alyson Footer is a national correspondent for MLB.com. Follow her on Twitter @alysonfooter.