Play Ball initiative proves to be huge success
Baseball wound its way through more than 100 cities around the country in August as part of the Play Ball initative, which was enacted by Commissioner Rob Manfred in order to inspire children to stay active and fall in love with the National Pastime.
Cities as far apart as Bridgeport, Conn., and Anaheim, Calif., participated in Play Ball, and mayors from everywhere in between signed on to get their cities involved. The United States Conference of Mayors enthusiastically supported Play Ball, and their communities benefited in ways large and small.
Some of the events were held in local parks around the country, and some in big league cities brought out big names. Baltimore, for instance, invited Hall-of-Famer Frank Robinson, and former players Chris Hoiles and Tippy Martinez last Wednesday in the interest of influencing the community.
That trio of former players joined Manfred and Baltimore mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake at Carroll Park. They oversaw more than 300 local kids who received pointers in hitting, pitching and fielding. Hopefully, said Manfred, the kids would remember the experience for life.
"If you look at the particular activities that we have the kids doing, they're the sorts of things they can do on their own, without a Little League coach, without uniforms, without an umpire," Manfred said. "That was the way we played baseball as kids, and I hope we can reignite that type of play among today's generation."
Robinson, who has played a key role in building baseball's group of Urban Youth Academies, said he was thrilled to be a part of Play Ball, and that he's optimistic for the future of the kids who participated.
"I think in the long run, it'll have a big impact," Robinson said of the Play Ball events. "Starting with the kids this young, and going with them step-by-step with our programs as they go along will have a big impact, and make things easier for them to be more interested in the game at a later date."
The Diamondbacks and Red Sox both had clinics on their home fields, and players like Marlins slugger Giancarlo Stanton were more than happy to meet the kids and talk to them about their love of the game.
The Mets were another team that got behind Play Ball, and three of their players -- Bobby Parnell, Wilmer Flores and Michael Conforto -- showed up to a park right across the Grand Central Parkway from Citi Field. The players were greeted by a great ovation from the assembled kids, and they went down the line shaking hands before breaking off into groups and teaching the fundamentals of the game.
"We had a great group of kids and they were really happy to see us," said Parnell, a veteran reliever who has spent his entire career with the Mets. "It's fun for us to get away from the ball field and come out here to hang out with these kids. They're always enjoying the time and teaching us stuff too."
Play Ball was in rural communities and urban ones, and everywhere the mission was the same: to encourage kids to get outside and exercise, and to foster a love of baseball. Every city approached that job differently, with some holding Wiffle ball tournaments and others instructional clinics.
One city, Birmingham, Ala., meshed the educational along with the physical part of Play Ball. On Friday, the children there were given the chance to tour the Negro Southern League Museum, a facility that explores the history of baseball and civil rights in the region, hours before its official grand opening.
With more than 100 cities involved and tens of thousands of kids who participated, Play Ball could truly claim to be everywhere in American life. Cities large and small in every corner of the map were part of the movement, and Manfred said it couldn't have been a success without the mayors.
"I think that's a demonstration of how important baseball can be in communities," Manfred said in Baltimore. "And I really can't think of a better partner than the Conference of Mayors on this project."