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Kids from USA, Mexico meet up to Play Ball

Over 600 kids participate in first bi-national event in El Paso
Special to MLB.com

EL PASO, Tex. -- Major League Baseball, Minor League Baseball and the El Paso Chihuahuas made history on Saturday, as Southwest University Park hosted the first bi-national Play Ball event.

"It's totally appropriate that this happens right here in the borderland," Chihuahuas vice president and general manager Brad Taylor said. "Between Juarez and El Paso, we have an unbelievable community here. They participate in many things together and I think this is just an extension of that."

EL PASO, Tex. -- Major League Baseball, Minor League Baseball and the El Paso Chihuahuas made history on Saturday, as Southwest University Park hosted the first bi-national Play Ball event.

"It's totally appropriate that this happens right here in the borderland," Chihuahuas vice president and general manager Brad Taylor said. "Between Juarez and El Paso, we have an unbelievable community here. They participate in many things together and I think this is just an extension of that."

Children from both El Paso and Juarez, Mexico came together for two sold-out sessions featuring various stations centered on baseball and softball activities including agility, fielding, home run derby, running the bases and bat and ball games.

"This is right in line with [Commissioner Rob Manfred's] strategic priority around diversity inclusion for youth programs," MLB vice president of talent and head of diversity and inclusion Renee Tirado said.

"Especially when you have this opportunity on this weekend, we wanted to bring baseball to the large El Paso Latino population. Concurrently, we're hosting games in Monterrey, Mexico and it's Cinco de Mayo. This is about making the game accessible to a larger audience."

Video: Jayla Montgomery teaches baseball basics in El Paso

Make it accessible they did, as over 600 kids from two nations were active in learning the fundamentals of baseball and softball on the Southwest University Park field throughout the morning. Being part of the event was important for the Chihuahuas, because Taylor said everyone has a responsibility to pave the way for the next generation.

"We're parents, too, and we want our kids to enjoy nice things along with other kids," Taylor said. "We all have a responsibility to give back and pay it forward and give an opportunity to kids who might not ordinarily have one."

This was the 10th Play Ball event of 2018 for Major League Baseball, but the first in the El Paso area this season. Although not a Major League city, MLB vice president of baseball and softball development David James said that Major League Baseball values its partnership with Minor League Baseball and the Chihuahuas.

"Minor League Baseball has a huge footprint with 160 clubs across the country," James said. "We're so happy that they're involved in the Play Ball event, along with our Major League clubs. We really think the message is spreading that, 'However you want to play ball, play ball.'

"El Paso has been an important market for us," James added. "The El Paso Border Youth Athletic Association, this is their third year being a part of the RBI program. We've been out here a couple of times and we knew they had a lot of kids. We're always excited to grow the RBI program and get more kids out."

While this was the first bi-national event combining children from the United States and Mexico, Tirado says she envisions something bigger.

"We have investments in Mexico and we're growing the game there, so this has been a target demographic for us," Tirado said. "This is the first of many of these events. Major League Baseball is a global company and we're always looking to strategically align with different nations."

At the end of the event, even on top of making history, the smiles on all of the kids' faces made the entire day worth it to parents, coaches and event organizers alike.

"I think this event was just about showing that baseball and softball is fun," USA softball event manager Destinee Martinez said. "You don't have to have cleats, a glove or any expensive equipment. Kids can just get out there and play and have a good time."

"This energized me completely," Tirado said. "It makes me realize the power of baseball, the power of sport and the lives of children. There's a correlation between kids who play sport and education. It ramps up my commitment to do the work that I do. I go back to my team and brainstorm about everything we can do to continue to support this type of work."

Jesse Feldman is a media relations assistant for the El Paso Chihuahuas, the Padres' Triple-A affiliate.