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Play Ball enthralls kids at ST home of KC, Texas

MLB.com @JesseSanchezMLB

SURPRISE, Ariz. -- Baseball thrives year-round in the Grand Canyon State.

The D-backs play here and there are 15 teams that prepare for the regular season during Spring Training in Arizona. There's extended spring training, the Arizona Rookie League, instructs, the Arizona Fall League and thousands of youth players who suit up across the state every day.

SURPRISE, Ariz. -- Baseball thrives year-round in the Grand Canyon State.

The D-backs play here and there are 15 teams that prepare for the regular season during Spring Training in Arizona. There's extended spring training, the Arizona Rookie League, instructs, the Arizona Fall League and thousands of youth players who suit up across the state every day.

It's the perfect setting to Play Ball.

Timed in conjunction with the Arizona Fall League's Fall Stars Game, the latest edition of Play Ball featured close to 300 local participants at the Surprise Recreation Campus, the Spring Training home of the Royals and Rangers. The event, sponsored by Major League Baseball, the Arizona Fall League and the City of Surprise, featured hitting and fielding drills, baserunning and agility workouts on Texas Rangers Field 5. All participants received a Play Ball T-shirt, bat-and-ball set and special wristbands.

"Arizona is a baseball hotbed and the ability to piggyback on the Fall Stars Game is great in this baseball community," said Chuck Fox, senior manager for baseball and softball development for MLB. "Play Ball is everywhere and it's growing. It's not only about the kids that have played, it's about getting kids that have never played the game, who come in and get introduced to the game and leave here thinking how cool it is."

Steve Cobb, the director of the Arizona Fall League, was also in attendance. AFL players Jon Duplantier, Daulton Varsho and Pavin Smith of the D-backs, and the Marlins' No. 17 prospect Jordan Yamato were special guests.

"It's so cool to see those kids put on the T-shirt, smack their gloves and want to play," Cobb said. "I can relate to that and it's great that Play Ball has been incorporated into the Fall Stars Game. It should be a part of this game, because we have the best young players here, and it's important that those young kids get the chance to see them play."

Play Ball launched in June 2015, and it has operated events in hundreds of cities across the country. This year, the program expanded to locations outside of the continental United States, more proof that baseball is alive and well in all age groups across the globe.

"The year has gone extremely well, and we continue to reach communities that we have not reached before," said Tony Reagins, Major League Baseball's executive vice president of baseball and softball development. "I think the highlight of the summer was the event in Alaska, where we had 24 hours of baseball. The U.S. Conference of Mayors continues to rally around the effort and do programs at the grassroots level in their cities. Minor League Baseball has a large group that has had activations in their communities and internally, our department has done great work. We have reached north of a one million kids this year."

In all, there were close to 30 Play Ball activations in 2018, and more could be on the way before the end of the calendar year.

These are a few of the many highlights from Play Ball in 2018:

• In April, the Play Ball activation in Puerto Rico featured more than 450 participants from all over the island. The next month, Major League Baseball played host to the first bi-national Play Ball event with more than 600 participants from Juarez, Mexico, and El Paso, Texas.

• Also, in May, more than 300 young players from all over the Mexican state of Nuevo Leon participated in an activation in conjunction with the Mexico Series between the Indians and Twins in Monterrey, Mexico.

• The Play Ball event in Alaska was held in Fairbanks on June 21, the Summer Solstice, in celebration of the Midnight Sun Game, a contest that dates back to 1906.

• There have been Play Ball events in Canada and Panama.

• What's more, there are tentative plans for more international Play Ball activations in 2019, including an event in England during the London Series between the Red Sox and the Yankees in June.

• A Play Ball activation was also held Saturday in Hawaii.

"It's about creating opportunities for young people around the country, internationally and keeping the game alive," Reagins said. "That's what we are trying to do. We are continuing to expand and revitalize the game."

Jesse Sanchez, who has been writing for MLB.com since 2001, is a national reporter based in Phoenix. Follow him on Twitter @JesseSanchezMLB and Facebook.