NEW YORK -- Before the fireworks went off and it was time to celebrate America, about 50 kids were at Richmond County Bank Ballpark in Staten Island on Wednesday and showed how much fun they had at the Play Ball event hosted by Major League Baseball and the Staten Island
NEW YORK -- Before the fireworks went off and it was time to celebrate America, about 50 kids were at Richmond County Bank Ballpark in Staten Island on Wednesday and showed how much fun they had at the Play Ball event hosted by Major League Baseball and the Staten Island Yankees.
"Baseball is about family, and families are able to come together around their game. That's huge," said Tony Reagins, Major League Baseball's senior vice president for youth programs. "We are getting little guys here at the ballpark, which is really fun. To have them come to a Minor League park and just run around in the outfield grass and take part in the game is what it's all about."
Wednesday marked the fourth stop of the "Five Borough NYC Play Ball Tour," a unique effort launched this year. The tour, which has already stopped in Manhattan, Bronx and Far Rockaway, is designed to capture New York City's love of baseball and reintroduce the many casual forms of baseball and softball that have been synonymous with the five boroughs, and loved by New Yorkers, for decades.
The event lasted 90 minutes, but there was plenty to do during that time frame. The kids ran through five stations -- home run derby, fielding, agility, baserunning and a brief baseball game.
"It was about reaching as many kids as we could in each of the boroughs and having some kind of impact -- large or small -- just having a presence in each borough," Reagins said. "To be able to come out July 4 and have the Statue of Liberty in the backdrop is kind of cool."
The highlight of the event was Yankees Minor League outfielder Canaan Smith pitching to the kids. After being plucked in the fourth round of the 2017 Draft, Smith is the organization's No. 23 overall prospect according to MLB Pipeline. One child though, Omar Abuzahrieh, didn't let Smith's rising star overwhelm him.
Abuzahrieh came to the plate and announced to Smith that he was a Mets fan. Smith then playfully hit him with a pitch. But Abuzahrieh got his revenge on the next pitch with a home run over the left-field wall. The way the kids reacted, one would have thought Abuzahrieh just won the seventh game of the World Series.
"He took me very deep today. ... He had a good swing," said Smith, who plays left field for Class A Short-Season Staten Island.
Jennifer Feierman raved about how her son and daughter benefitted by being at the Play Ball Event.
"I think it's pretty amazing. I can't believe this is a free event," Feierman said. "I think it is so great that [MLB] is throwing this out there to the community for people to learn how to play baseball and just be team members. … We are starting the day off right, going to have a great rest of the day and just have fun."
Bill Ladson has been a reporter for MLB.com since 2002. He covered the Nationals/Expos from 2002-2016. Follow him on Twitter and Facebook.