Programs and events in 2018 reached more than one million kids
Major League Baseball today announced the slate of 2019 activities featuring a wide range of Baseball & Softball Development initiatives designed to improve access to, and foster growth within, the youth and amateur levels of the sport. These activities, scheduled from February through December, will include hundreds of PLAY BALL events in the United States and around the world, a new high school girls baseball tournament in March (MLB Grit), the newly branded Hank Aaron Invitational with the Major League Baseball Players Association (MLBPA), Fun At Bat programming for physical education curriculums in schools, youth-focused initiatives during July's All-Star Week in Cleveland, and more. Many of the events will be jointly operated with a variety of partners, including USA Baseball, USA Softball, the U.S. Conference of Mayors, Little League International, Cal Ripken, Sr. Foundation, Boys & Girls Clubs of America, Major & Minor League Clubs, and MLB corporate partners.
In 2018, Baseball and Softball Development initiatives led by MLB reached more than one million kids in the United States, Puerto Rico, Canada, Mexico and Panama.
"Our goal is to make sure that our sport is as accessible as it can be for everyone in the U.S. and all around the world," said Tony Reagins, Executive Vice President of Baseball & Softball Development, Major League Baseball. "Our 2019 schedule follows a very specific strategy to offer opportunities and experiences that introduce the sport, allow young people to develop within the sport, and have a lot of fun playing the greatest game ever invented."
Following are the categories of activities led by MLB's Baseball & Softball Development team scheduled for 2019:
1. PLAY BALL Initiative Events and Programs (p. 2-4)
2. Diversity-Focused Amateur Development Camps for Baseball and Softball (p. 4-5)
3. Girls Baseball Events (p. 5)
4. In-School Physical Education Programming (p. 5)
5. College & High School Focused Programs and RBI Tournaments (p. 5-6)
6. 2019 MLB All-Star Week in Cleveland (p. 7)
7. 2019 MLB Little League Classic presented by GEICO (p. 7)
*All dates, locations and events are subject to change, and additional elements/events will be added*
MLB and partners will host hundreds of PLAY BALL events throughout the United States & Puerto Rico and around the world, including Brazil, Canada (Montreal), Mexico (Monterrey), and the United Kingdom (London). The PLAY BALL initiative is baseball's collective effort to encourage young people and communities to engage in baseball- or softball-related activities, including formal leagues, special events and casual forms of play. PLAY BALL events have become MLB's signature youth engagement activity during the professional and amateur baseball and softball calendar, especially on key dates throughout MLB's Championship Season. PLAY BALL events demonstrate the positive way the game can serve as an outlet for physical activity, fun with friends, and learning how to play the sport at its most basic levels. PLAY BALL also serves as the League's youth umbrella in which all associated programs and events derive from the initiative's consistent, simple message: However You Play Ball, PLAY BALL!
Following are some highlights of the PLAY BALL events scheduled for 2019:
Celebrating National Girls & Women in Sports Day -
• Compton, California (February 9) - At the Compton MLB Youth Academy
• NOTE: follows similar event at the New Orleans MLB Youth Academy held on Saturday, Feb. 2
• Honoring the legacy of Jackie Robinson in celebration of his 100th birthday -
• Kansas City, Missouri (February 7) - At the Kansas City Royals MLB Urban Youth Academy in support of Sharon Robinson's Breaking Barriers: In Sports, In Life visit
• Montreal, Quebec, Canada (March) - With Jays Care Foundation and Baseball Canada
• Pasadena, California (September) - In support of the Pasadena Unified School District
• International Locations -
• Brazil (February 12-15) - In Bastos, Marilia and Ibiuna with Minor League players from Brazil
• Monterrey, Mexico (March 9, April 13, May 5) - In connection with three Mexico Series Events
• London, United Kingdom (Week of June 24) - In connection with the Mitel & MLB Present London 2019 series between the Boston Red Sox and New York Yankees
U.S. Conference of Mayors & PLAY BALL SUMMER - Hundreds of Mayors from cities in all 50 United States and Puerto Rico will host PLAY BALL events from June through August in celebration of the annual, joint effort between MLB and the U.S. Conference of Mayors.
• In 2018, more than 300 Mayors hosted events in their communities, giving nearly 40,000 kids the opportunity to enjoy baseball and softball activities.
Events in non-MLB U.S. Markets - To be held in conjunction with various partners and support of local programs in the youth baseball/softball space:
• Birmingham, Alabama (March 16) - Reviving Baseball in Inner Cities (RBI) Institute
• Richmond, Virginia (April 6) - Support of Metropolitan Junior Baseball League
• Charlotte, North Carolina (April 27) - Support of Carolinas Metro RBI
• Billings, Montana (April 27) - Support of Montana RBI
• Gary, Indiana (May 10)
• Oklahoma City (June 1) - With the Oklahoma City Dodgers (MiLB) & USA Softball
• Flint, Michigan (June 4) - Support of Flint RBI
• Rockford, Illinois (August) - Support of National Women's Baseball Center
• Cape Cod, Massachusetts (July)
• East St. Louis, Illinois (August 24)
• Baltimore, Maryland (September)
• The Bronx & Brooklyn, New York City (September) - New York City Stickball Events
• Passaic, New Jersey (September) - Vitilla Tournament in support of Passaic RBI
• In recognition of Championship Collegiate Baseball & Softball -
• Grand Junction, Colorado (May 23) - National Junior College Athletic Association (NJCAA) Baseball World Series
• Oklahoma City, Oklahoma (May) - National College Athletic Association (NCAA) Women's College World Series
• Omaha, Nebraska (June 12) - For the MLB in Omaha presented by GEICO game between the Kansas City Royals and Detroit Tigers on Thursday, June 13th - the first Major League game ever played in Nebraska, part of the new GEICO Summer Series, will take place two days prior to the start of the 2019 NCAA Men's College World Series.
• In celebration of several prominent Baseball events -
• World Series Game Four (October)
• Arizona Fall League "Fall Stars Game" (November 2)
• Baseball's Winter Meetings in San Diego (December)
PLAY BALL WEEKEND with MLB and MiLB Clubs - 'PLAY BALL WEEKEND,' which features a unique variety of youth-focused activities by nearly 200 Major and Minor League Clubs, will return for a fourth consecutive year. The complementary program of the 'PLAY BALL' initiative was created to provide professional baseball Clubs with a platform to engage youth and celebrate baseball & softball participation in communities throughout the country and in Canada. MLB and MiLB Clubs have selected dates this season to activate their efforts in their respective ballparks and communities. In support of PLAY BALL WEEKEND, MLB Clubs will host customized and unique activities to engage young people, highlight the fun of youth baseball and softball, and bring the professional levels of the game closer to kids
For the second consecutive year, baseball and softball combined to rank as the most participated team sports in the United States (25.1 million participants), according to the most recent, annual Topline Participation Report produced by the Sports & Fitness Industry Association (SFIA). In 2017, casual participation in baseball rose by 12.9% with overall participation seeing a 6.0% increase. Over the last three years, baseball has seen a 49.1% growth in casual participation, which is in direct correlation to the launch of the PLAY BALL initiative.
PlayBall.org is the PLAY BALL initiative's online home and is accessible via MLB.com, USABaseball.com, USASoftball.com and other partner websites. PlayBall.org also links to USABaseball.com, which provides players, parents and coaches with the information and resources to help with proper play and instruction, including education videos featuring Hall of Famer and MLB Network analyst John Smoltz, Chicago Cubs Manager Joe Maddon, and Kansas City Royals Senior Vice President of Baseball Operations and General Manager Dayton Moore, among others. Health and safety information, including through the Pitch Smart program, also is available. PLAY BALL is generously supported by Chevrolet, Scotts and Kingsford.
Entering its fourth season, MLB Network's weekly show "Play Ball" features baseball stars as they discuss their path to the Major Leagues, share tips in one-on-one demonstrations with MLB Network analysts, and provide advice to kids trying to get better at the game.
Diversity-Focused Development Camps
In connection to Martin Luther King Jr. Day (January 21), MLB and USA Baseball hosted the annual DREAM Series as the first installment of a series of diversity-focused, amateur development camps that will be held in 2019. These special amateur camps focus on developing and diversifying the future talent pool in baseball. Some of the most talented high school baseball and softball players from around the country participate in these events and receive elite-level instruction as well as the opportunity to be mentored by former Major League players & managers, former professional & Olympic medal-winning softball players, and members of the Women's National Baseball Team. In addition to the on-field action, participants will receive daily presentations that focus on preparing prospects for the collegiate and professional recruiting processes and offer information about alternative careers within the baseball & softball industry. In each of these camps, a contingent of college recruiters and professional scouts attend to evaluate players who may not have had the opportunity to showcase their skills through other events.
The list of amateur development camps scheduled for 2019, which features separate boys baseball, girls baseball, and softball events, includes the following:
• Breakthrough Series Softball (May 23-27) - At the Kansas City Royals MLB Urban Youth Academy in Kansas City, Missouri
• Breakthrough Series Boys Baseball East (June 6-10) - At Historic Dodgertown in Vero Beach, Florida
• Breakthrough Series Boys Baseball West (June 20-24) - At the MLB Youth Academy in Compton, California
• Elite Development Invitational, Softball (July 12-16) - At Historic Dodgertown in Vero Beach, Florida
The diversity-focused, amateur development camp effort will peak with the newly branded Hank Aaron Invitational, a joint initiative by MLB, the MLBPA and USA Baseball that is designed as a youth-oriented event aiming to get high school-age players, with diverse backgrounds, to the next levels of the sport. The joint MLB-MLBPA Youth Development Foundation will cover all operations expenses, allowing the event to be entirely cost-free for all participants. Approximately 250 baseball players (boys, ages 13-18) from across the United States will receive elite-level training from former Major League players and coaches at Historic Dodgertown. As a new element of the event in 2019, the top 44 players from the Hank Aaron Invitational will be invited to play in a special showcase game at SunTrust Park, the home of the Atlanta Braves, as part of an extensive "Hank Aaron Week" hosted by the Braves. Hank Aaron Week will include a variety of diversity- and culture-focused initiatives focusing on business networking, nostalgic history connected to Aaron's legacy, philanthropy, education and social justice.
• Hank Aaron Invitational, Ages 13-15 (July 21-26) - At Historic Dodgertown in Vero Beach, Florida
• Hank Aaron Invitational, Ages 16-18 (July 27-August 2) - At Historic Dodgertown in Vero Beach, Florida
• Hank Aaron Invitational 44 (August 3-4) - At SunTrust Park in Atlanta, Georgia
For the third consecutive year, MLB and USA Baseball have created programming to infuse growth in the area of girls playing baseball with "MLB Grit," a new high school baseball tournament that will be held at Globe Life Park, the home of the Texas Rangers, and the Rangers MLB Youth Academy in Dallas. Young women from around the U.S., ages 18 and under, will be part of this new experience, which joins the returning Trailblazer Series and Girls Baseball Breakthrough Series.
The Trailblazer Series is returning to the greater Los Angeles area in connection with Jackie Robinson Day, which is celebrated throughout MLB on April 15. The Girls Baseball Breakthrough Series is part of the larger network of diversity-focused, amateur development camps operated largely by MLB, USA Baseball and USA Softball. The event serves as an opportunity for on-field development as well as a scouting showcase for dozens of girls, ages 17 and under, from around the country for the Women's National Team trials operated by USA Baseball.
• &"MLB Grit" Girls Baseball High School Invitational (March 7-10) - At Globe Life Park in Arlington, Texas and the Texas Rangers MLB Youth Academy in Dallas, Texas
• Trailblazer Series (April 12-15) - At the Compton MLB Youth Academy
• Breakthrough Series Girls Baseball (June 14-18) - At Historic Dodgertown in Vero Beach, Florida
In-School - Fun At Bat
More than one million students in all 50 States and Washington D.C. will participate in Fun At Bat, a bat and ball program for all children created for use in elementary school P.E. classes as an introductory, modified bat-and-ball program for young students, ages 4-10. The overarching goal of this program, which is part of the PLAY BALL initiative, is to promote fun and active lifestyles for children, while teaching them the fundamental skills of bat and ball sports. The program also includes a literacy component and teaches character traits such as leadership, teamwork and fair play. All provided program materials are available in English and Spanish.
College & High School Focused Programs and RBI Tournaments
In celebration of College Baseball's Opening Weekend, MLB will host two collegiate baseball tournaments featuring a total of 12 teams participating in two separate events - the returning "Andre Dawson Classic" and inaugural "MLB4."
From Friday, February 15 through Sunday, February 17, MLB will host the Andre Dawson Classic at the New Orleans MLB Youth Academy and Maestri Field at the University of New Orleans. The event, which is named after the Chicago Cubs/Montreal Expos legend who is one of only two HBCU baseball-playing alumni enshrined in the National Baseball Hall of Fame, is designed to highlight Historically Black Colleges & Universities (HBCUs) and their baseball programs. The 2019 edition of the event, formerly known as the "Urban Invitational," will feature eight collegiate baseball teams, seven of which are from HBCU programs, including Dawson's alma mater (Florida A&M University). These teams include the Alcorn State University Braves (HBCU), Alabama State University Hornets (HBCU), University of Arkansas - Pine Bluff Golden Lions (HBCU), Grambling State University Tigers (HBCU), Prairie View A&M University Panthers (HBCU), Eastern Kentucky University Colonels, Florida A&M University Rattlers (HBCU), and Southern University Jaguars (HBCU). MLB Network will air the contest between Eastern Kentucky and Florida A&M on Saturday, February 16th, LIVE at 8:00 p.m. ET.
The new MLB4 tournament is a collegiate baseball showcase event featuring some of the best programs in the nation, including the Vanderbilt University Commodores (Vanderbilt), University of Virginia Cavaliers (Virginia), Texas Christian University Horned Frogs (TCU), and California State University, Fullerton Titans (Cal State Fullerton). The inaugural MLB4 is also scheduled that same weekend (February 15-17) and will be located at Salt River Fields at Talking Stick in Scottsdale, Ariz., the shared Spring Training home of the Arizona Diamondbacks and Colorado Rockies. MLB Network will air the contest between Vanderbilt and Virginia on Friday, February 15, LIVE at 7:00 p.m. ET.
Separately, celebrating the high school ranks of the game will also be a central function of the Baseball & Softball Development agenda for MLB in 2019.
In June, will launch the new Prospect Development Pipeline (PDP) League, a premier development and showcase experience for dozens of high school baseball prospects based in the United States. The PDP League, which will be held from mid-June through early-July at the IMG Academy in Bradenton, Fla., is an invitation-based development opportunity for approximately 80 of the top high school baseball players ahead of the 2020 MLB Draft. It will include competitive game play, practice & training sessions with MLB Club representatives serving as on-field coaches, and evaluation using modern technologies tailoring individualized development curriculums for each player. The PDP League will serve as a primary identification opportunity for the USA Baseball 18U National Team, slated to compete in the World Baseball Softball Confederation (WBSC) U-18 Baseball World Cup in Busan, South Korea. Additionally, the League will serve as a feeder for a new All-Star Week showcase game for the best high school baseball players, designed in a similar style to the existing SiriusXM All-Star Futures Game.
In September, Major League Baseball and USA Baseball will host the second annual States Play, a high school baseball tournament to showcase some of the best rising seniors from two states that historically produce a high volume of collegiate and professional players. This year's event will feature players from Florida and Georgia and will be hosted in Miami, Florida.
Beginning in June, MLB will host the Reviving Baseball in Inner Cities (RBI) Regional Tournaments, which features more than 100 RBI teams from cities all around the world competing for a berth in the RBI World Series, which will be held in Vero Beach, Florida in August. Regional tournaments are situated in seven regions throughout the United States and one World Region. The cities hosting RBI Regionals include Atlanta, GA (Southeast), Austin, TX (Southwest), Durham, NC (Mid-Atlantic), Indianapolis, IN (Central), Los Angeles, CA (West), Springfield, MA (Northeast), and Vero Beach, FL (World).
2019 MLB All-Star Week in Cleveland, Ohio
MLB will once again launch a full schedule of activities during MLB All-Star Week featuring various youth & fan engagement efforts throughout Cleveland in July. These include PLAY BALL Park, the Commissioner's Cup & Jennie Finch Classic tournaments featuring baseball and softball teams from MLB Youth Academies around the country and in Puerto Rico, the Pitch, Hit & Run and Jr. Home Run Derby skills competitions, and High School Home Run Derby, and much more.
2019 MLB Little League Classic
The Pittsburgh Pirates and the Chicago Cubs will play in the third MLB Little League Classic presented by GEICO in Williamsport, Pa. during the 2019 MLB Championship Season. The special Regular Season contest, as well as ancillary activities by each club, will take place on Sunday, August 18th, with the game airing nationally that evening on ESPN's "Sunday Night Baseball" and ESPN Radio at 7:00 p.m. (ET). The Little League Classic, along with the June 13th match-up between the Kansas City Royals and Detroit Tigers in Omaha, Nebraska, will make up the new GEICO Summer Series.