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O's free tix program is outreach at its best

Orioles' initiative is a service to community and will attract new fans
MLB.com @RichardJustice

The Baltimore Orioles have done a very cool thing in offering free tickets to kids 9 and under for certain games at Camden Yards. This is right on so many levels.

When baseball fans are asked why they love this sport -- when they're asked why they love their Orioles or Cardinals, Brewers or Royals -- the stories frequently begin with memories of spending time at ballparks with parents or grandparents, aunts or uncles.

The Baltimore Orioles have done a very cool thing in offering free tickets to kids 9 and under for certain games at Camden Yards. This is right on so many levels.

When baseball fans are asked why they love this sport -- when they're asked why they love their Orioles or Cardinals, Brewers or Royals -- the stories frequently begin with memories of spending time at ballparks with parents or grandparents, aunts or uncles.

Years later, these are some of the most pleasant memories of their lives. When the Astros won the World Series last fall, one of the first text messages I got was from a guy who wrote: "I can't stop thinking of my dad and how much he would have loved this."

O's offer free entry to kids through ticket program

Over the next few weeks, all of us in Houston heard dozens of stories like that one. Some of the sweetest childhood memories were of hours at the Astrodome with family. The Astros -- their successes, failures, their Larry Dierker and Nolan Ryan, Jeff Bagwell and Craig Biggio -- became embedded into hearts and minds at a young age.

Sure, there's a grow-the-business angle to what the Orioles are doing. But I would prefer to see it as making it easier for a generation of young fans to experience Camden Yards and to fall in love with the Orioles the way millions of Marylanders have over the past 64 years.

To this day, my daughters vividly remember our family trips to Camden Yards when they were young. They have recollections of the colors and sounds, the food, the day Cal Ripken Jr. shook their hand, all of it.

Here's how the program the Orioles announced on Monday works: Adults purchasing regularly priced tickets in the upper deck at Camden Yards can bring up to two children ages 9 and under, compliments of the Orioles. The Kids Cheer Free deal is for games from after March 31 through April 29, with later dates announced during the season. The special offer is not available for Opening Day on March 29. 

This program is one arm of a larger effort in which the Orioles have sent players and coaches into the community to participate in clinics, distribute equipment and sign autographs. Every team aims to contribute to its community. For hundreds of players, it's about using their platform to do good.

Orioles center fielder Adam Jones has been especially active in Baltimore in reaching out to kids, bringing them to games and providing a positive role model. When the film "42" -- Jackie Robinson's story -- premiered in 2013, Jones invited a large group of kids and their families to watch it with him at a local theater. More recently, he helped send an entire Baltimore school to a free "Black Panther" screening, among a wide variety of initiatives he has undertaken in the community.

As part of the Orioles inviting kids to Camden Yards, they're also expanding their Kids Corner at the park, adding a variety of activities and food options. In the end, it's about getting young people into the ballpark and giving them the opportunity to fall in love with the sport. As Orioles executive vice president John Angelos said, the Orioles' mission is to "cast a broad community outreach."

When MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred took over in January 2015, his very first priority was to give every kid in this country a chance to play baseball. That meant building and maintaining fields, providing equipment and training coaches.

In Baltimore, the Orioles are doing their part, and helping get young people to Camden Yards is an appropriate next step. For a franchise that means so much to so many, this is a really good thing. For MLB, it's a really good day.

Richard Justice has been a reporter for MLB.com since 2011. Read his columns and follow him on Twitter at @RichardJustice.

Baltimore Orioles