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Play Ball event a 'dream come true' for kids

Futures Game stars share their experiences with aspiring ballplayers
MLB.com

MIAMI -- As 14 players from Penders Academy took batting practice on Saturday afternoon at Play Ball Park in downtown Bayfront Park, they couldn't help seeing themselves in top prospects Nick Gordon and Lewis Brinson.

Gordon, a shortstop at Double-A Chattanooga who is the Twins' No. 1 prospect, mingled with 12- and 13-year-olds involved in the Marlins' youth partnership. Gordon is in town to play for the U.S. Team at the 2017 SiriusXM All-Star Futures Game, which takes place at 4 p.m. ET today at Marlins Park in Miami and can be viewed live on MLB Network and MLB.com.

MIAMI -- As 14 players from Penders Academy took batting practice on Saturday afternoon at Play Ball Park in downtown Bayfront Park, they couldn't help seeing themselves in top prospects Nick Gordon and Lewis Brinson.

Gordon, a shortstop at Double-A Chattanooga who is the Twins' No. 1 prospect, mingled with 12- and 13-year-olds involved in the Marlins' youth partnership. Gordon is in town to play for the U.S. Team at the 2017 SiriusXM All-Star Futures Game, which takes place at 4 p.m. ET today at Marlins Park in Miami and can be viewed live on MLB Network and MLB.com.

"Keep having fun," Gordon told the kids. "Always play the game and love playing the game and do your best. It's all about having fun. It's still a game. It's good for kids to get out and play."

:: 2017 Futures Game coverage ::

U.S. Team members Brinson (Brewers No. 1 prospect) and Rhys Hoskins (Phillies' No. 12 prospect), as well as the World Team's Tayron Guerrero (Marlins' No. 17 prospect), also stopped by Play Ball Park, which is in its second year after a successful run in San Diego in 2016. It is a free, interactive All-Star Week attraction created by Major League Baseball to provide opportunities for youth, ages 4-17, to play baseball and softball in a fun, welcoming setting. Play Ball Park measures about one acre in size and includes a youth-sized turf diamond -- featuring daily scheduled programming and open-play, as well as batting tunnels, pitching inflatables, MLB sponsor activation zones and a new "Stickball Alley."

Each young person who participates in Play Ball Park activities receives a plastic or foam Play Ball bat-and-ball set made by Franklin, as well as a Play Ball-branded T-shirt. Programming partners for 2017 Play Ball Park include USA Baseball, USA Softball, The Positive Coaching Alliance, the Marlins, Boys & Girls Club of America and generous Play Ball supporters such as Chevrolet, Scotts, Nathan's Famous and New Era.

Play Ball Park, which is accessible to children and parents through Tuesday, has free admission after signing a required participation waiver.

Tyous Taylor, 14, had a chance to speak with Gordon as they fielded foam balls in the outfield.

"It's like a dream come true," said Taylor, who plays third base at Penders Academy, which is based in Carol City. "He asked me what position I play, and I told him. He was telling me, 'Can you play shortstop, too?' It means the most."

Darrell Pender, a former player in the Tigers' organization, founded Penders Academy and created an optimist team for kids ages 4-14 -- in the hopes of bringing baseball back to the inner city.

"It's a good experience for them to see entertainment," Pender said. "A lot of these kids are African-Americans, and they have never been exposed to stuff like this. I took most of the kids you see, and they play with me. I took them under my wing to show them the game of baseball. We were provided an opportunity to play in RBI Baseball, and now we're here."

Hoskins, a first baseman for Triple-A Lehigh Valley, preached the benefits of going to college. Brinson, an outfielder for the Brewers who made his Major League debut this season, envied the experience.

"I was telling people earlier, this would've been great to have somebody come out here and play baseball with you -- even though it's not a real game," said Brinson, who grew up in South Florida. "Just to interact with you and show [the kids] that they care and [it's] somebody that's playing pro ball, somewhere you want to be. I think it means a lot to these kids. It would've meant a lot to me."

All-Star festivities conclude on Tuesday at 7:30 p.m. ET. Tune in to the 2017 All-Star Game presented by Mastercard live on FOX, and during the game visit MLB.com to submit your choice for the Ted Williams Most Valuable Player Award presented by Chevrolet via the 2017 MLB All-Star Game MVP Vote. The 88th All-Star Game, in Miami, will be televised nationally by FOX, in Canada by Rogers Sportsnet and RDS, and worldwide by partners in more than 160 countries via MLB International's independent feed. ESPN Radio and ESPN Radio Deportes will provide national radio coverage of the All-Star Game. MLB.com, MLB Network and SiriusXM will also provide comprehensive All-Star Week coverage. For more information, please visit allstargame.com.

Christina De Nicola is an editorial producer for MLB.com.