Every year, Major League Baseball's Play Ball initiative grows, expanding to more cities within the United States and around the world. This year, even more kids from all over the globe will be within a stone's throw of MLB's signature youth program, which encourages young people to, quite simply, play
Every year, Major League Baseball's Play Ball initiative grows, expanding to more cities within the United States and around the world. This year, even more kids from all over the globe will be within a stone's throw of MLB's signature youth program, which encourages young people to, quite simply, play ball.
On Friday, MLB rang in the new year with its first Play Ball event, which took place in the Bahamas and involved a slew of former Major Leaguers and current Major League prospects. Hosted by former two-time All-Star catcher Charles Johnson and two current Minor Leaguers who are natives of the Bahamas -- Todd Isaacs (Rockies) and Lucius Fox (Rays) -- this event took place at Paradise Harbor, located in Atlantis Paradise Island property in Nassau.
The event was held in conjunction with the trio's annual Home Run Derby event, scheduled to take place on Saturday.
"I remember every time guys ahead of me that played Minor League ball came down in the offseason, and they would work out at the field, and I just wanted to be in their presence," said Fox, the Rays' No. 19 prospect per MLB Pipeline. "I didn't have to work out or field a ground ball -- just being in their presence and watching them work was special to me.
“So doing this for the kids and actually having guys from the Major Leagues and Minor Leagues from the United States, who they actually watch on TV ... they can see them, they can take pictures with them, and ask them questions, is special."
The fun-focused Play Ball event included activities that highlight the casual ways in which baseball and softball can be played, including a home run derby, baserunning and mini-games stations. In addition, each participant received a Franklin Play Ball bat and ball set, t-shirts and wristbands to take home.
The list of current and former professional ballplayers present for the Play Ball event was lengthy. In addition to Johnson, retired big leaguers also present in the Bahamas included Dante Bichette, Juan Pierre, Jeffrey Hammonds and Ryan Dempster, an MLB Network analyst.
The prospect "roster" included 19 players representing the Bahamas: Warren Saunders (Mets), Tahnaj Thomas (Pirates), Chavez Young (Blue Jays), D’Vonn Mackey (Athletics), Chavez Fernander (Tigers), Anfernee Seymour (Marlins), Jazz Chisholm (Marlins), Trent Deveaux (Angels), Kristian Robinson (Diamondbacks), D’Vaughn Knowles (Yankees), James Rolle (Orioles), Dax Stubbs (Orioles), Ian Lewis (Marlins), Everette Cooper (Astros), Zion Bannister (Rangers), Keithron Moss (Rangers) and D’Shawn Knowles (Angels).
"You're going to start hearing about Bahamian ballplayers showing up in big league baseball in the next few years," Bichette said. "And for the future years after that. These guys are incredible athletes and they're starting to get after it."
Also present were prospects who have either already experienced their first taste of the big leagues, or are right on the cusp of receiving their first callups. A sampling: Bo Bichette (Blue Jays, and Dante's son), Nick Gordon (Twins), Jesus Luzardo (Athletics), Lewis Brinson (Marlins), Touki Touissant (Braves), Yency Almonte (Rockies), Juan Hillman (Indians) and Shed Long (Mariners).
"When I was a kid, I used to love coming to camp because you'd be with the older guys and you look up to them and you want to be like them," Long said. "It's good that Todd and Lucius put on something like this every year, where the kids can interact with guys that play pro baseball. Their dream is to one day play pro baseball. For us to come out and interact is huge for them. It's good for their relationships and good for them to just see that it's possible."
Before the 2020 calendar year has concluded, MLB will have hosted Play Ball events in Brazil, Canada (Montreal), Dominican Republic (Santo Domingo), Mexico (Mexico City) and the United Kingdom (London). Throughout the year, MLB also will operate a number of Play Ball, or similarly-structured, youth events throughout Asia, specifically in Japan, South Korea, China, Chinese Taipei, and India.
For the first event, MLB chose the picturesque Bahamas -- a perfect, warm-weather setting.
"It's a beautiful place," Isaacs said. "You're doing a kids' camp on the water. I think there's nowhere in the world that does that. Growing up, for us, it was all about how we felt being around those guys. We want to duplicate that feeling here, right now. A lot of these guys, like Bo Bichette, are guys these kids look up to. It's about having fun and instructing the kids but at the same time creating a memory they'll have forever."
Alyson Footer is a national correspondent for MLB.com. Follow her on Twitter @alysonfooter.