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Play Ball positive experience for Virginia youth

April 6, 2019

RICHMOND, Va. -- Standing before an estimated 300 boys and girls on Saturday afternoon, Todd Parnell ticked off the names of teammates whom he played Little League baseball with as a kid in his hometown of Locust, N.C. The vice president and chief operating officer of the Richmond Flying Squirrels

RICHMOND, Va. -- Standing before an estimated 300 boys and girls on Saturday afternoon, Todd Parnell ticked off the names of teammates whom he played Little League baseball with as a kid in his hometown of Locust, N.C.

The vice president and chief operating officer of the Richmond Flying Squirrels -- the Double-A affiliate of the Giants -- said that after 40-plus years, he still thinks about his teammates and he still has memories from when he played Little League.

“With the Flying Squirrels, we always like to say we're not in the baseball business, we're not in the entertainment business, we're in the memory making business,” Parnell said. “It's our goal, with our friends from the city of Richmond and Major League Baseball, that each of y'all make memories here today."

The kids, ranging in age from about 5 to 13, were there at Hotchkiss Field for one of MLB’s “Play Ball” events -- the first one held in Richmond. The aim of the program, which began in 2015, is to encourage engagement in baseball and softball.

The participants, outfitted in Play Ball T-shirts, rotated through a series of five stations to practice baseball- and softball-related skills: home run derby, bat and ball, baserunning, grounders and popups, and agilities.

They ran from station to station with excitement, perhaps making the sort of memories around the game that Parnell still remembers.

"I think baseball's taking big strides as far as getting more people exposed to the game,” said Flying Squirrels right-hander Connor Overton, a Richmond native, who stopped by Saturday’s event. “And this is definitely a step in the right direction."

The Metropolitan Junior Baseball League was the connection through which Play Ball arrived in Richmond. MJBL was founded in the city 53 years ago -- to provide opportunities for all to play baseball -- and has since expanded to other states around the country, and the Caribbean.

MJBL executive director William Forrester Jr. spoke with MLB executive vice president of baseball and softball development Tony Reagins about some opportunities. Reagins asked Forrester about bringing a Play Ball event to Virginia, and it wound up in Richmond.

"It's important to get them introduced to the game at a young age,” Forrester said. “This is an excellent opportunity just to see the fun that's involved in playing the game.”

Saturday’s participants worked their way through each station with the help of older youth players from baseball programs around the Richmond area. Overton and Matt Winn, a Flying Squirrels catcher who was also in attendance on Saturday, worked their way around, too.

Winn is also a Richmond native.

"To be able to have an outlet for baseball in Richmond, it's definitely a big help to just kind of keep the game alive,” he said.

At the end of the event, each of the participants received a bat and ball set.

For 8-year-old Patrick Cheatham, there with friend Amir White, also 8, the best part of the afternoon was an easy answer.

"The home run hitting,” Cheatham said.

Saturday’s outing was one of 35 Play Ball events planned across the country for 2019.

In Richmond, the hope is that Saturday’s event spurs further baseball and softball participation.

“I think this will go a long way to have kids now say, 'Hey Mom, hey Dad, I would like to play baseball. Can you sign me up somewhere?'" Forrester said.