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Play Ball brings joy of baseball to Flint

June 1, 2019

FLINT, Mich. -- Major League Baseball hosted a Play Ball event on Saturday at the Eagle’s Nest Academy in Flint, which allowed children to come learn fun and informal ways of getting into the game. This event, run in association with the Flint Jackson Park Reviving Baseball in Inner Cities

FLINT, Mich. -- Major League Baseball hosted a Play Ball event on Saturday at the Eagle’s Nest Academy in Flint, which allowed children to come learn fun and informal ways of getting into the game. This event, run in association with the Flint Jackson Park Reviving Baseball in Inner Cities (RBI) program, gave children a chance to hit home runs, play catch and run the bases, all for free.

“This kind of event means everything to Flint,” said Mayor Karen Weaver. “Baseball is America’s pastime, and giving our children the opportunity to come and enjoy all the aspects of this game is really wonderful.”

Every child who came to play received a free Play Ball T-shirt, as well as a bat and ball set so they could continue to play when they got home.

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“It’s really great that my baby gets to come here and just have a place to have fun,” said Shante Wright, whose 8-year old son, Jaiden, was participating in the Home Run Derby. Wright said her son played on his school team this spring and loves to pitch. The whole family are big Detroit Tigers fans -- Comerica Park is just 74 miles from Flint.

The RBI program, founded 31 years ago by former Tiger John Young, is aimed at providing an opportunity for youth in historically disadvantaged areas to learn and play baseball and softball. RBI, which began with just one branch in what was then known as South Central Los Angeles, has expanded to become an international phenomenon -- in partnership with the Boys and Girls Clubs of America -- with participation as high as 150,000 boys and girls per season.

School participation and attendance is mandatory for membership in RBI, encouraging children to not just work hard on the diamond but in the classroom, as well.

Tony Reagins, MLB’s executive vice president of baseball and softball development, said when he is asked why MLB would come to Flint, he just shakes his head and says, “Why not Flint?

“For young kids [who] are interested in baseball -- to give this to a community like Flint, that has been through so much -- it’s important,” he said. “An event like today is just the beginning of us being engaged with Flint -- and other communities around the country like Flint -- for years to come.”

Among those attending was Courtney Lewis, a 12-year old slugger who came to the event dressed in full catcher’s gear -- donning the hat he wears for his Little League team, the Pirates. He said he has always wanted to be a catcher because he’s tough, and only tough guys can be catchers. A Tigers fan, Lewis said his favorite player was Miguel Cabrera.

“Flint has had some tough times, but it’s bouncing back, like all champions do,” said Douglas Palmer, a consultant with RBI. “This is a great thing, because it shows these kids that you don’t need to have fancy equipment, 18 players and a diamond to have fun playing baseball.”

Chantee Dotson brought her two sons, 7-year-old Jordan and 6-year-old E.J., for their first taste of any organized baseball event.

“They’re always trying to go outside and run and throw and play, so you know they were gonna be all excited to come here,” she said. Dotson said she played softball during her time at Flint Southwestern High School, but had not yet signed her sons up for organized baseball.

“It seems like they’re having fun, so maybe we’ll talk and get ‘em playing for real,” said Dotson.

MLB is set to host approximately 40 Play Ball events this year in many similar communities all around the world.

Chase Michaelson is a contributor to MLB.com.