When 15-year-old Kevin Gamble Jr. met his baseball hero -- Orioles center fielder Adam Jones -- Saturday afternoon at Radecke Park in Baltimore, it was a surreal moment."It's a great opportunity for me, but it just shows how much he cares about the community and kids younger than him to
When 15-year-old Kevin Gamble Jr. met his baseball hero -- Orioles center fielder Adam Jones -- Saturday afternoon at Radecke Park in Baltimore, it was a surreal moment.
"It's a great opportunity for me, but it just shows how much he cares about the community and kids younger than him to play baseball," said the high school freshman of Jones.
But for Jones, who was helping coach youngsters as part of the Orioles' Play Ball Weekend activities, the moment was very real.
"Camden Yards is one of the toughest places ever to get to in the Major Leagues," Jones said. "You've got to come to the streets. You've got to come to the inner city. This is where baseball started. This is where I started -- not here in Baltimore -- but on fields like this."
Jones, along with Orioles coaches Wayne Kirby and Jett Ruiz, and former O's players Ken Dixon, Rick Krivda and Al Bumbry, taught baseball and softball fundamentals to about 300 kids at the ninth annual Baltimore City Youth Baseball and Softball Clinic.
The second annual Play Ball Weekend features a variety of youth engagement activities by nearly 200 Major League and Minor League clubs to highlight the fun of youth baseball and softball. It is a complementary program of the Play Ball initiative, designed by MLB to celebrate youth baseball and softball participation. MLB has provided clubs with more than 300,000 youth plastic bat and ball sets to distribute in both ballparks and at community events.
In Detroit and Kansas City, the Tigers and Royals held kids-only press conferences where young baseball and softball players had the chance to ask the professional players and managers questions.
"It's inspiring to the little kids who might want to play in the big leagues one day," said Tigers Kids Club member Sarah Larson, 13, who hosted the press conference at Comerica Park. "Because then they have the Major League players who once were little kids, so they're talking about their experiences and stuff."
The Padres hosted two local softball teams, Imperial Valley Girls Softball and Emerald Pony Softball, who played alongside Padres players in a seven-inning Wiffle ball game at Petco Park on Friday. The two teams were then invited to watch the big league team take batting practice and enjoy the Padres game later in the evening.
"It's very important to create a love of the game," Padres shortstop Chase d'Arnaud said. "It's extremely important to get kids out there, educate them, show them how fun it is to play."
Padres manager Andy Green said: "Get the kids out from in front of the cellphone and the TV sets, and out playing ball somewhere. We definitely encourage them to do that any way we can."
Brewers players Jacob Barnes, Wily Peralta and Eric Sogard took Play Ball Weekend to Heyer Elementary School in Waukesha, Wisconsin, which is 16 miles west of Miller Park. They held mini-clinics with the kids, and reflected on how they fell in love with the game at a young age.
"I think for myself growing up, I loved watching the game. I loved playing the game," Sogard said. "I just grew up playing outside, playing any sport I could play. I played a lot of Wiffle Ball growing up, and I think that's what helped me get to where I am today."
About 230 of the 425 students at Heyer Elementary speak Spanish, according to Trisha Sacharski, a speech pathologist at the school. She said it was significant for the Spanish-speaking students to get a chance to practice and play with Peralta, who is a native of the Dominican Republic.
"It shows kids and this population that any one of them can achieve this, so I think that at this time of year to have them come out and have them be able to talk about the hard work and dedication is important," Sacharski said.
In Oakland, a current A's player and an A's legend teamed up to host a sandlot game with more than 30 kids from the Cal Ripken Baseball youth league at Greenman Field.
Infielder Adam Rosales and former left-handed pitcher Vida Blue played in a game sponsored by Rosales' Sandlot Nation charity.
Not only was an A's legend on the field -- less than a half mile from the Oakland Coliseum -- but the kids from the Cal Ripken Baseball youth league are in the same program that produced Hall of Famers Rickey Henderson, Joe Morgan and other Major League stars.
"They're kids, man. They're just kids." Blue said. "We may have potential Major Leaguers here."
Many MLB clubs are hosting 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 will include kids participating in special news conferences, pregame meet-and-greets and catches with players, ceremonial first pitches, public address duties, lineup card exchanges, taking the field with players, postgame running the bases and more. Major League players, coaches and managers will wear Play Ball Weekend patches during the weekend's games, and players on home clubs will wear custom T-shirts during batting practice on the date of their club's activities.
Teams that were on the road Saturday and Sunday will host their Play Ball Weekend activities during another homestand.
Oliver Macklin is a reporter for MLB.com based in Washington, D.C. Follow him on Twitter at @OMacklinMLB.
Manny Randhawa is a reporter for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter at @MannyRsports.