ORANGEBURG, S.C. -- Historic Mirmow Field and Claflin University played host to almost 100 children on Saturday for the second iteration of Major League Baseball’s HBCU Play Ball Series.
Claflin head baseball coach James Randall said he was honored to host the event and help grow the game of baseball.
“Well, it's a great honor. Anytime you can host something that enhances the game of baseball and MLB chooses your program to put on an event, it's motivating,” Randall said. “It’s something this community needs, so I think it's a great deal.”
Children ages 5 to 12 took part in five drills meant to help them develop basic skills for both baseball and softball.
The Play Ball Series relaunched the previous weekend in Tuscaloosa, Ala. The events are back after the COVID-19 pandemic halted them, something that excites David James, MLB’s vice president for baseball and softball development.
“Pre-COVID, we had plans to hit almost a dozen HBCUs,” James said. “And then, obviously, the world changed a little bit. We're getting back to this early in the season and making sure that we go to communities where we don't necessarily play -- things like that -- and make sure that we come to these communities and give kids an opportunity to participate in our sport.”
Shawn Taylor, the city of Orangeburg’s superintendent of recreation and marketing, said that MLB choosing Orangeburg as a site showed the commitment the city has to the sport.
“Our community is very, very committed to baseball and softball,” Taylor said. “To have MLB come in to host this event, to think enough of our great city, it's really powerful for us.”
Parents watched from the stands of Mirmow Field as their kids learned how to do things like run the bases and field ground balls.
Kameaka Garvin signed up her 12-year-old daughter for the Play Ball event after hearing about it from her daughter Erin’s softball coach.
Garvin emphasized the importance the event has on the kids of the Orangeburg community.
“For [MLB] to come out here with these kids is wonderful because the kids in this community need something like this, that they can actually touch -- and say that, ‘I was a part of the Major League Baseball training or camp,’” Garvin said. “So, yeah, this is good for them.”
James echoed Garvin’s sentiment, saying that these events focus specifically on making sure that children of color have access to the game of baseball.
“When I was hired, one of the things that I was charged to do is to grow the game and make sure that there's more access,” James said. “So events like these really help us reach some of those milestones.”
Claflin University baseball players acted as coaches for the drills, guiding and encouraging the kids throughout the day.
Randall praised his players for being adamant about volunteering, joking that he had to tell a few of the players to back off and rest for their doubleheader against Augusta University that was being played after the event.
“The kids are excited by it, I think my guys are having more fun than the kids, to be honest with you,” said Randall, a former first baseman/outfielder who played in four Major League games with the White Sox in 1988. “It's always good, anytime you can give back to the community. Here at Claflin, we do a lot of community service. So this is a great addition to our program.”
Junior utility player Charles Jackson said he valued being able to help grow the game of baseball as a result of the event.
“It's very fun, important because this is the next generation,” Jackson said. “You got to teach them what you know so they’ll be better than what you are.”
Randall said the event was important for the children in attendance, not only because they were learning the game but because they learned skills that they can take with them outside of sports.
“I think it’s one giant step toward improving the game,” Randall said. “You know, we got kids -- some of these kids probably never been exposed to any type of baseball or softball, anything like that. And anytime you can introduce a youngster to something that motivates them, it could be something that carries over with them in life.”