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More than 100 kids attend Play Ball event in S.C.

Special to MLB.com

SPARTANBURG, S.C. -- More than 100 children came out to Major League Baseball's final Play Ball event of the spring at C.C. Woodson Recreation Center on Saturday.

The children received instruction from volunteer coaches and MLB staff on the fundamentals, including how to field a groundball, round the bases and more.

SPARTANBURG, S.C. -- More than 100 children came out to Major League Baseball's final Play Ball event of the spring at C.C. Woodson Recreation Center on Saturday.

The children received instruction from volunteer coaches and MLB staff on the fundamentals, including how to field a groundball, round the bases and more.

Director of the Spartanburg Youth Sports Bureau, Luther Norman, said the Play Ball event was a great way to help renew interest in the area's youth.

"These kids get to go home and tell their friends about the fun that they had," he said. "Spartanburg was involved with Major League Baseball for a number of years in the '80s when the RBI [Reviving Baseball in Inner Cities] program was first started. With a program like this, it does wonders. It keeps kids out of the streets and brings people together. You can't measure with money what this means to the kids and the community."

Saturday's event served as part of MLB's initiative to help bring access and interest in baseball and softball among rural, predominantly African-American communities like Spartanburg, which Norman said has been an integral part of the city's past.

The Spartanburg Phillies were a local commodity as an affiliate of the Philadelphia Phillies in the Western Carolinas League and South Atlantic League from 1963-80 and 1986-94. Norman said that since the Phillies' departure, baseball has become a fading interest among the children of upstate South Carolina, especially African-Americans.

"These kids here will remember this event for the rest of their lives," he said. "Baseball has always been a integral part of the African-American community for bringing us together and galvanizing the community. It just does a lot of positives, and we need more of that in our inner cities."

However, the event was as much about having fun as it was baseball fundamentals. Bennett Shields, MLB's senior manager for baseball and softball development, said that MLB events not only help engage kids in athletics, but also provide a social outlet.

"First and foremost, it's something to do," Shields said. "If it's that first experience with baseball or softball, then great. For those of us that have been in the game, it's easy to take the fundamentals for granted. Play Ball and these events are our opportunity to show these kids 'here's how you swing a bat.'"

At the conclusion of the event, each participant was given a Franklin plastic bat and ball set to take home so that they can play at home.

"It's incredibly important to the MLB to try to make sure that the game is still relevant in African-American communities and make sure the rich history that African-Americans have in this game continues," Shields said. "Even if they aren't joining a league, we hope they're out playing backyard baseball or at a park and enjoying it with their friends or family. If we can get a couple kids out doing this on their own, then we've done their job."

Parents can go to playball.org to find more information about the program as well as find the nearest leagues for their children. There's also ideas on games to play with a small group as well as instructional videos on how to further their skills.

Sean Carley is a contributor to MLB.com based in South Carolina.