Fun At Bat, the free bat-and-ball program that helps introduce children to baseball and softball, is expanding to London.
MLB, USA Baseball and BaseballSoftballUK announced Thursday that Fun At Bat will be available to Greater London area primary school students through 2021. The program's expansion to London is part of MLB's series of initiatives surrounding the '19 London Series, which begins Saturday when the Yankees and Red Sox play the first-ever MLB game in Europe.
MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred, USA Baseball chief development officer Rick Riccobono and BaseballSoftballUK CEO John Boyd were on hand to make the announcement Thursday from Manor Junior School in Barking, London, along with a small class of students who demonstrated the Fun At Bat activities.
"It is important to have big events [like the London Series] to generate excitement," Manfred said. "But what is even more important is, over the long haul, to get young people like you interested in our game, baseball and softball. And that's what the Fun At Bat program is designed to do."
Fun At Bat's initial U.K. launch will cover 50 schools in London, Birmingham and Southeast England, reaching thousands of children, with plans to expand program access in the coming years. The program is designed to be used in school physical education classes.
"It's about the future of our game, capturing [the attention of] young people like you and getting you interested in a game that we think is exciting, fun to play, safe and teaches great values like leadership and teamwork," Manfred said.
Fun At Bat, a joint effort of MLB and USA Baseball under the larger Play Ball initiative, has already reached more than three million students in the U.S., Puerto Rico and Mexico. The program promotes active lifestyles while teaching children fundamental baseball and softball skills.
BaseballSoftballUK, which oversees the development of baseball and softball in the UK, will administer Fun At Bat in London.
"We are thrilled to welcome Fun At Bat to the UK, where we believe the program will be a crucial addition for the development of baseball and softball," Boyd said in a statement. "Play Ball events have been hosted by many of the world’s top baseball-playing countries, and the addition of the UK to this list shows the importance of the London Series and its legacy events."
Fun At Bat's London expansion continues MLB's efforts to grow baseball and softball among young people around the world. Play Ball events have been hosted in Mexico, Brazil and Panama, while the MLB CUP youth tournament has served Japan, Taiwan and Mexico for the last three years and was just held in Europe for the first time with London baseball and softball teams at Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park.
MLB's Coach Development Program and the Elite Development camp for teenage players have also been held around the world, including Europe. London hosted both programs this year in advance of the London Series.
"We have all sorts of programs under the umbrella of Play Ball, but they all have one goal," Manfred said Thursday. "That goal is to get young people engaged with baseball and softball, and hopefully to become fans of the game their entire life."