PITTSBURGH -- Before Josh Bell was the Pirates starting first baseman, before he ever even signed a professional contract, he was just a kid from Coppell, Texas, who loved baseball. He played with his father in his backyard. He played pickup games with family members, and he played for his
PITTSBURGH -- Before Josh Bell was the Pirates starting first baseman, before he ever even signed a professional contract, he was just a kid from Coppell, Texas, who loved baseball. He played with his father in his backyard. He played pickup games with family members, and he played for his local neighborhood team -- the Coppell Cowboys.
It's a reason why Bell is involved with the Pirates Play Ball initiative, which is focused on promoting youth participation, through fun baseball and softball activities. Bell hopes today's children enjoy similar experiences playing baseball.
"I think [Play Ball] is awesome," Bell said. "I remember stories of my group of friends growing up and things I won't forget playing neighborhood baseball, playing with guys 10 and 12 years old, who were really starting to understand the game and how important it is to have fun and how important it is to win.
"It's cool thinking about all those moments, and hopefully kids nowadays can have those moments as well."
The Pirates Play Ball program offers plenty of ways to kids kids involved with baseball, including introducing the Play Ball "Team of the Game" program that takes place on every Tuesday home game during the 2017 season. This program recognizes players and coaches from youth baseball or softball teams throughout the Pittsburgh community. The initiative, in partnership with Dick's Sporting Goods, also launched the "Future Pirates" uniform program with the Brighton Heights Athletic Association. The "Future Pirates" uniform program works to outfit area youth baseball/softball players with Pirates-branded uniforms.
On Sunday the Pirates hosted the Play Ball Event at PNC Park. Children ages 7 to 14 participated in activities with Pirates players, coaches and alumni. Pirates manager Clint Hurdle talked to parents for 15 minutes, sharing his own story. Hurdle's parents always encouraged him to play baseball, but weren't demanding that he do so. He urged the parents to do the same, even offering an interesting piece of advice.
"This was for the moms," Hurdle said. "Dirty underwear can be lucky. Dirty underwear never caused a kid an illness or sickness. So when your son comes to you and says, 'Mom, don't wash something.' Give him a little rope, mom. Don't wash it. See where it goes.
"I don't share this with everybody."
Bell did his part to help with the initiative as well. On Saturday, he, along with former Pirates pitcher and current broadcaster Bob Walk, played Wiffle ball with children in the outfield at PNC Park. It was as if Bell was back in Coppell.
"It was cool to get out of the routine of things and playing real baseball and getting out there with some kids who were just playing for fun," Bell said "It's what makes [baseball] cool. You play as a kid, and you get to play as a grown man as well."
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.
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 activations.
JonathanToye is a reporter for MLB.com based in Pittsburgh.