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Play Ball Weekend opens in Oklahoma City

Dodgers' Minor League affiliate hosts event featuring USA Softball members
Special to MLB.com

OKLAHOMA CITY -- Piper Kincher was dressed in a pink tutu and sporting yellow flip flops as she followed her two older sisters around the outfield of Chickasaw Bricktown Ballpark.

Kincher, who is 2 years old, did everything they did. She ran bases. She tried to field grounders and catch popups with her glove lined in pink trim. She hit the ball. She threw the ball.

OKLAHOMA CITY -- Piper Kincher was dressed in a pink tutu and sporting yellow flip flops as she followed her two older sisters around the outfield of Chickasaw Bricktown Ballpark.

Kincher, who is 2 years old, did everything they did. She ran bases. She tried to field grounders and catch popups with her glove lined in pink trim. She hit the ball. She threw the ball.

It all came on a day the Kincher family didn't expect Friday morning in the opening Play Ball event as part of Play Ball Weekend across Major League Baseball and Minor League Baseball.

Kincher is younger than the age requirement for the event, but she got to participate anyway. The belief is that everybody should have the chance.

"Otherwise we would have been chasing her through the stands," Kincher's father, Mark, said. "She would have been trying to find a way to get out there."

Chickasaw Bricktown Ballpark and the Oklahoma City Dodgers hosted the initial event involving MiLB, along with USA Baseball and USA Softball, as part of the second annual Play Ball Weekend. It ran at a perfect time with the Women's College World Series being played nearby.

The event predominantly featured girls, perhaps a little more than the 50/50 split expected. They received instruction from several USA Softball members, both on the women's national team and the junior women's national team.

"It's awesome," said USA pitcher Amanda Chidester, who manned the home run derby station. "You don't really see events like this too often. I've heard about things like this, but I haven't actually done it. It's awesome. Just to see all of these kids out here literally have so much fun I wish we would do it more often."

Play Ball Weekend features a variety of activities for youth in nearly 200 MLB and MiLB cities across the country. This is the first season to involve Minor League teams.

"This is where the scale of Minor League baseball really comes into play, because you can quintuple the number of teams activating this," MiLB vice president of marketing strategy and research Kurt Hunzeker said. "We can immediately start making an impact in all of these cities."

A recent report shows an impact already. MLB recently announced that baseball and softball combined rank as the most participated team sport in the United States last year, with 25 million participants. Baseball participation increased by 7.7 percent and slow-pitch softball participation increased by 8.1 percent, according to the Topline Participation Report from Sports & Fitness Industry Association.

"Kids are going to do something," Oklahoma City mayor Mick Cornett said. "You can either give them positive things to do or just allow the natural course of events to take place, and kids will probably not make the best choices. So the idea that we can get out and organize instruction, get kids the type of equipment that they need, the supervision they need they're going to grow from this and they'll make great adults."

For Mark Kincher, this was a chance to get his family involved.

He has four daughters. Rachel, 9, Natalie, 5, and 8-month-old Lainey accompanied Piper. He said Rachel and Natalie both play softball, and they all look up to the softball players at the WCWS.

Watching his three daughters Friday alongside his wife meant more than he could describe.

"They learn how to have fun," Kincher said. "Here in Oklahoma, it gets pretty hot in the summer. Getting outside and having fun and picking up a ball and throwing it and swinging a bat. There's all kinds of places to have fun, and this has been a great experience."

Jacob Unruh is a contributor to MLB.com.