KANSAS CITY -- When a young catcher participating in a kids-only news conference on Saturday morning asked Royals manager Ned Yost what his favorite position is, Yost, a former catcher himself, said catcher. As Yost responded, the young player's face brightened.This catcher was one of 23 ballplayers from Raytown Baseball
KANSAS CITY -- When a young catcher participating in a kids-only news conference on Saturday morning asked Royals manager Ned Yost what his favorite position is, Yost, a former catcher himself, said catcher. As Yost responded, the young player's face brightened.
This catcher was one of 23 ballplayers from Raytown Baseball Association and Blue Springs Softball Association participating in the special event as part of Major League Baseball's Play Ball Weekend.
The second annual Play Ball Weekend features a variety of youth engagement activities by nearly 200 Major League and Minor League clubs to highlight the fun of youth baseball and softball. It is a complementary program of the Play Ball initiative, designed by MLB to celebrate youth baseball and softball participation. MLB has provided clubs with more than 300,000 youth plastic bat and ball sets to distribute in both ballparks and at community events.
Many MLB clubs are hosting skills and physical fitness clinics as well as surprise "takeovers" of youth baseball and softball games or practices featuring appearances by Major League players, alumni, mascots, public address announcers and more. Activities will include kids participating in special news conferences, pregame meet-and-greets and catches with players, ceremonial first pitches, public address duties, lineup card exchanges, taking the field with players, postgame running the bases and more. Major League players, coaches and managers will wear Play Ball Weekend patches during the weekend's games, and players on home clubs will wear custom T-shirts during batting practice on the date of their club's activations.
Teams that are on the road Saturday and Sunday will host their Play Ball Weekend activities during another homestand.
"I was so happy that the Royals reached out to us and asked us if we wanted to be a participant in it," said John Thompson, the president of Raytown Baseball Association. "[The kids'] eyes lit up when we told them."
The news conference closely resembled a regular news conference, except when the children asked questions, they sat next to Yost for a more personal experience.
Yost preached the value of hard work, said he gained strength by scrubbing pots and pans at Kentucky Fried Chicken and explained he wears the No. 3 because of the close friendship he had with NASCAR driver Dale Earnhardt. After Yost, second baseman Whit Merrifield answered questions about his career.
These kids, along with the winners of the Scotts Pitch, Hit & Run event, were honored on the field prior to Saturday's game against the Indians. The Royals Fan Express also surprised a youth pickup game at the Police Athletic League on Thursday, and the Royals will distribute ball and bat sets to children who participate in Sunday's Fun Run as they exit the stadium.
"I'm sure it's going to be one of those things that they're going to be telling their friends," Thompson said. "This is a once-in-a-lifetime experience for them."
Wilson Alexander is a reporter for MLB.com based in Kansas City.