DENVER -- The city of Denver is all dressed up and the region is abuzz with excitement for the upcoming MLB All-Star Game, the second Midsummer Classic it’s hosted and the first in 23 years. As the stars begin to arrive for Monday’s Home Run Derby and Tuesday’s game, countless kids will get to see their baseball heroes up close. Many of them have dreams of being MLB All-Stars themselves someday, too.
Youth baseball and softball were front and center on Saturday afternoon in Denver’s Civic Center Park, where hundreds of kids gathered in front of the statehouse to kick off the U.S. Conference of Mayors’ “Play Ball Summer -- Sandlot” initiative.
Denver Mayor Michael B. Hancock was joined by Rockies owner/chairman and CEO Dick Monfort and MLB chief baseball development officer Tony Reagins to launch the program, featuring kids participating in a series of fun-focused, informal baseball- and softball-centered activities.
“We’re hosting some of the best players in the world in Denver, Colo., this week, and some of the greatest legends in baseball, as well,” Hancock said. “We are excited about all the activities that will be taking place, but I’m most excited about the fact that as Major League Baseball came to us and said, ‘Here are the activities we’re gonna be doing,’ they talked about pulling together some of the best stars that are going to be rising through the ranks soon by investing in our children.
“Through today’s Play Ball event here at Civic Center Park, I am proud to make Denver the center of the Play Ball universe. Today, we launch a nationwide campaign with Major League Baseball and the U.S. Conference of Mayors, through which mayors across the nation and Puerto Rico will host 'Play Ball Summer -- Sandlot' events.”
MLB and USA Baseball teamed up to launch the Play Ball initiative in 2015, seeking to encourage participation in all forms of baseball among all ages, with a special focus on youth. Casual participation in baseball and softball has increased dramatically since the Play Ball program began, rising 88.3 percent through 2020. From 2019 to ’20 alone, participation grew to nearly 8.1 million kids -- an increase of 22 percent year over year.
MLB and the U.S. Conference of Mayors have worked together since the birth of the Play Ball initiative to maximize the program’s impact at the local level.
“This is the seventh year of our partnership with the U.S. Conference of Mayors,” Reagins said. “'Play Ball Summer -- Sandlot' is the first program of its kind and you will see hundreds of events just like this around the country, as we have over 350 mayors committed to doing events just like the one you see today.”
As the kids played on multiple fields set up in the spacious park under cloudless skies, the future of the game was on full display. There would be plenty of time to take in the big league stars over the days to come. But on Saturday, it was all about the stars of tomorrow.
“This whole All-Star weekend is about watching the best baseball players in the world get together and play -- but more importantly, it’s about the youth and all of the people that love baseball and come out to play and watch baseball,” Monfort said. “This has been an incredible partnership.”