From the launch event at the Dodgers' Triple-A ballpark in Oklahoma City on Friday to instruction from Adam Jones in Baltimore; from the 2,700-strong youth parade around the warning track in Philadelphia to a kids-only news conference in Atlanta; from a youth-equipment drive in Seattle to the Rangers' MLB Youth
From the launch event at the Dodgers' Triple-A ballpark in Oklahoma City on Friday to instruction from Adam Jones in Baltimore; from the 2,700-strong youth parade around the warning track in Philadelphia to a kids-only news conference in Atlanta; from a youth-equipment drive in Seattle to the Rangers' MLB Youth Academy clinic, the stage is set for the second annual Play Ball Weekend, involving nearly 200 Major League and Minor League clubs.
Major League Baseball on Thursday announced elements of the expanded weekend effort, a complementary program of the Play Ball initiative designed by MLB to celebrate youth baseball and softball participation in communities throughout the U.S. and Canada. Many MLB clubs will host 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 in ballparks will include kids participating in special news conferences, pregame meet-and-greets and catches with players, ceremonial first pitches, P.A. announcer duties, lineup card exchanges, taking the field with players, postgame running the bases and more. Other examples of club activation include Scotts MLB Pitch, Hit & Run and Jr. Home Run Derby competitions. Minor League clubs will host similar activities in their ballparks and communities.
MLB has provided clubs with more than 300,000 youth plastic bat and ball sets to distribute in ballparks and at community events -- a happening of sorts last year. In recognition of the new Play Ball partnership with Minor League Baseball, MLB also will host the Play Ball Weekend launch event with MiLB, the Oklahoma City Dodgers, USA Softball and the Mayor's Office of Oklahoma City at Chicasaw Bricktown Ballpark on Friday.
"Play Ball Weekend is a natural extension of the outstanding efforts already taken by our clubs, Major League players and Minor League Baseball," said Tony Reagins, MLB's senior vice president of youth programs. "We are thrilled by the support this program has received the last two years, and we are looking forward to another fun-filled weekend for all of our fans."
Teams that are away Saturday and Sunday will host their Play Ball Weekend activities during another homestand. For example, the Braves just announced Kids Week festivities that will roll out next week, and included is an opportunity for a kids-only news conference on Tuesday with current Braves players, available to the first 1,500 kids who come to the Georgia Power Pavilion located on the SunTrust Park Plaza by 6:15 p.m. ET before that game. See individual club sites for details of specific Play Ball Weekend plans.
Major League players, coaches and managers will wear special Play Ball Weekend patches on their uniforms during games. Players on home clubs will wear custom T-shirts during batting practice on the date of their clubs' activations, including dates beyond the official Play Ball Weekend. The shirts will reflect fun jargon specific to either hitting or pitching. Many home ballparks will also feature Play Ball field stencils and run in-ballpark public service announcements in support of Play Ball and other youth outreach programs.
MLB.com and MLB's official social media accounts, including the Play Ball accounts, will have complete coverage of the Play Ball Weekend events featuring original content and multimedia offerings. MLB Network will feature highlights from Play Ball Weekend in its studio programming on Saturday and Sunday, and it will televise a special edition of Play Ball, the weekly player interview and demonstration show for kids, at 10 a.m. ET on June 17, featuring a complete recap of Play Ball Weekend activities.
USA Baseball, USA Softball ESPN, FOX Sports, Little League International, Ripken Baseball and PONY Baseball and Softball also will support Play Ball Weekend. USA Baseball and USA Softball will promote the initiative to its membership and support club activations with appearances by coaches and staff.
ESPN and Little League will renew an effort, which ran in 2015 and '16, to highlight Little League Baseball during Sunday Night Baseball and Baseball Tonight broadcasts. The first activation of the 2017 campaign will be during Play Ball Weekend on Sunday with Freeport (Ill.) Little League at their "Little Cubs Field." Little League International also will host Play Ball Weekend activities on Sunday at the Little League International Complex in South Williamsport, Pa.
Mark Newman is enterprise editor of MLB.com and a baseball writer since 1990. Follow him @Marathoner and read and join other baseball fans on his MLB.com/blogs hub.