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Play Ball event kicks off MLB's week in London

@alysonfooter
June 24, 2019

Major League Baseball's upcoming London Series between the Red Sox and Yankees is one of the most high-profile ventures to date in its efforts to globalize the game. A European matchup -- the first of its kind -- between two of baseball's most storied teams presents a perfect opportunity to

Major League Baseball's upcoming London Series between the Red Sox and Yankees is one of the most high-profile ventures to date in its efforts to globalize the game. A European matchup -- the first of its kind -- between two of baseball's most storied teams presents a perfect opportunity to reach a fan base that doesn't normally receive daily exposure to the Major Leagues.

And, as has been the case for a solid four years, wherever baseball goes, so goes Play Ball.

Beginning a full five days before the Yankees and Red Sox actually touch ground in the U.K. later this week, MLB is busy with daily youth and community activities, all designed to carry out Commissioner Rob Manfred's longstanding initiative to encourage kids to come out to the ballpark and simply play ball.

The efforts have extended to a worldwide audience for years. This week will mark MLB's first foray into bringing kids from London and its surrounding areas into the fold, tapping into an area not traditionally associated with baseball.

The festivities at Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park, adjacent to London Stadium, site of the Yankees-Red Sox games, began on Sunday with the annual MLB CUP, featuring four of the top baseball teams in the area and two fast-pitch softball teams.

Monday's activity was an all-inclusive Play Ball event, extended to all students and teachers who wished to participate in MLB's signature youth event.

"This entire event is about a celebration of baseball, and making emotional connections between kids and their parents and this game," said Jim Small, MLB's senior vice president, international. "We have kids out here today that love this game as much as any kid in Japan or America. This is their chance to play on a big stage, right next to the biggest stage that we're going to have for European baseball on Saturday and Sunday when the Red Sox and Yankees get here."

The MLB CUP is MLB's signature youth league competition, through which nearly 10,000 kids in Japan, Taiwan and Mexico have participated in tournament play over the past three years.

"This is a special atmosphere and a special feeling for the kids who turned up and saw the field put on for them," said John Boyd, CEO of BaseballSoftballUK. "The expression on their faces was just incredible. There was a 'wow' factor to this being their event put on for them right here at London Stadium."

The enthusiasm from the kids was palpable.

"This was really fun," MLB CUP participant Travis Harfield said. "I learned competing in competition can be fun, as well as competitive, and you can make a lot of new friends as well."

Harfield, who was named Most Valuable Player as the tournament's best hitter, received a medal, a Yankees backpack and tickets to one of the games at London Stadium this weekend.

"The first time I went up to bat, I got out and I was a bit disappointed," Harfield said. "But the second time, I got a triple and I was happy about that. There was good pitching from the other teams and it was quite hard to hit at times."

"I'm really excited about going to see the London Series," he added, "because I've never seen an actual MLB game up close before."

Monday's Play Ball event drew baseball fans near and far -- and in one case, really, really far. Holly Ireland, the director of RBI Wales, loaded up a bus full of high school kids -- 22 total -- and made the four-hour trek each way to and from Wales for the Play Ball event in London.

When the official event was over, volunteers stayed on longer in order to facilitate a baseball game for the kids who traveled so far to be there.

"We had two teams," Ireland said. "The volunteers did the pitching, made the calls behind the plate and just let the kids play. They were loving it. They were giving it their all, really getting into it.

"They bent over backwards for us today. It was really heartwarming."

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