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Play Ball in Grand Junction a growing success

@alysonfooter
May 24, 2019

Major League Baseball's signature youth event made its way to western Colorado on Thursday, to connect young kids with one of the more popular events that takes place in that part of the country -- the NJCAA Baseball World Series. MLB hosted a Play Ball event at Sam Suplizio Field,

Major League Baseball's signature youth event made its way to western Colorado on Thursday, to connect young kids with one of the more popular events that takes place in that part of the country -- the NJCAA Baseball World Series.

MLB hosted a Play Ball event at Sam Suplizio Field, home of the Grand Junction Rockies, Colorado's Rookie League affiliate, in conjunction with the Junior College/JUCO World Series. During the event, which was free and open to the public, players and coaches participating in the NJCAA World Series worked with kids during fun-focused activities that highlighted the variety of informal ways baseball can be played.

"We've always wanted to do clinics -- we probably started it 25 years ago, just asking some of the coaches that we knew if they could share some of their team members to come and do a clinic out on the field," JUCO World Series chairman Jamie Hamilton said. "We got some national recognition, the people loved it, and we had a number of parents that had kids at the game [asking about the clinics]."

When MLB and Play Ball got involved, the concept grew even more.

"It's just blown up, and especially with the notoriety that [MLB] gives us, it's blown up to what you see here," Hamilton said.

The event was shortened by rain, but there was still time to fit in many of the activities, including a home run derby, running bases, bat and ball games and more. In addition, each participant received a "Play Ball" bat and ball set, T-shirts and wristbands to take home.

"You can see how the community comes here and really supports the event," Chipola College second baseman Ivan Johnson said.

"I don't think we expected this turnout, especially my first go of it. When you're [a kid] and you see guys kind of where you want to be, and they're bigger than you, you see yourself growing into that. You go to a couple camps, and it's an awesome experience."

The JUCO Baseball World Series, which begins on Saturday and lasts through June 1, has produced more than 100 Major League players since 1960.

In the four years since Commissioner Rob Manfred implemented the Play Ball initiative, participation in baseball and softball among youth has skyrocketed. In 2018, for the third consecutive year, baseball and softball combined to rank as the most participated team sports in the United States (25.6 million participants), according to the annual Topline Participation Report produced by the Sports and Fitness Industry Association (SFIA).

Also according to the report, baseball has seen a 52.8 percent rise in casual participation since the launch of the Play Ball initiative. Since 2015, Major League Baseball and its many partners in the Play Ball initiative, particularly MiLB, have hosted hundreds of Play Ball-focused events throughout the United States, Puerto Rico, Canada, Mexico, Brazil and Panama.

Alyson Footer is a national correspondent for MLB.com. Follow her on Twitter @alysonfooter.