DALLAS -- Rangers pitcher Jesse Chavez said the Play Ball event at the Texas Rangers MLB Youth Academy was just like baseball as he remembered it growing up in Southern California."It's exactly how loud it is and how running around it is," Chavez said. "No worries in the world, don't
DALLAS -- Rangers pitcher Jesse Chavez said the Play Ball event at the Texas Rangers MLB Youth Academy was just like baseball as he remembered it growing up in Southern California.
"It's exactly how loud it is and how running around it is," Chavez said. "No worries in the world, don't worry about the repercussions. Just go out and get dirty and have fun."
Chavez and Rangers teammates Jurickson Profar and Isiah Kiner-Falefa were among those who attended on Saturday to help 150 children have a great time through the Play Ball festivities. MLB and USA Baseball launched the Play Ball initiative in 2015 to encourage participation in youth baseball and softball. The initiative is designed to highlight that baseball can be played outside traditional leagues and tournaments -- everything from Wiffle ball games to playing catch and participating in skills competitions.
Participants were playing Wiffle ball Saturday on the Adrian Beltre Field inside the Globe Life Training Center. One young slugger almost smacked Chavez in the head with a line drive headed to left field.
The children were also running the bases, catching fly balls and doing various agility drills. They hit off a tee while Profar and Kiner-Falefa looked on. The children spent two hours at the event going from station to station.
"We are really trying to encourage kids on different ways to play baseball," said Juan Garciga, director of the Academy. "Some are playing on high-level select teams, and some kids are here playing for the first time. We are trying to show everybody they can play baseball, whether it is signing up for a league or coming to the Academy and signing up for the many programs."
The Rangers players remarked that The Mercy Street Complex presented by Toyota is a special place to play ball.
"Growing up from Hawaii, this is all new to me," Kiner-Falefa said. "This is awesome. We didn't grow up in a facility like this so for these kids to be here is a great experience for them, and they are able to have fun. We didn't have professional teams in Hawaii, so being able to come around here as a Major League player, help out the kids and be a role model is awesome."
So what is the message the players are trying to impart to the youngsters?
"Keep pushing, keep dreaming. Dreams come true if you keep working," Kiner-Falefa said. "Having fun is the most important part. If you have fun, everything else will fall into place."
Chavez said, "Showing [the kids] that we're just like them. Same game. We want them to know we went through the same things they did. Enjoy the game, enjoy life and know there are resources out there to help them."
While the Play Ball event was being held at the Academy, the Rangers hosted the regional Pitch, Hit and Run competition at Globe Life Park in Arlington. The contestants were from Texas, Louisiana, Arkansas and Oklahoma and competing for a chance to advance to the National Finals during the 2018 Major League Baseball All-Star Week in Washington, D.C.
The winner in the 11/12-year-old baseball division was Amaad Garrett from DeSoto, Tex. He is a regular at the Texas Rangers MLB Youth Academy in West Dallas.
The other baseball winners were Brady Brockhaus of Haughton, La. (7/8-year-old); Josiah Lucas of Arlington (9/10-year-old) and Braydon Armstrong of Midwest City, Okla. (13/14-year-old). The softball winners were Aurora Cobb of Midland, Tex. (7/8-year-old); Kabry Kiger of Catoosa, Okla. (9/10-year-old); Liberti Simmons of Waurika, Okla. (11/12-year-old) and Faith Roberson (13/14-year-old) also from Waurika.
The Academy stayed busy on Saturday beyond just the Play Ball event. There were RBI games and the Little League Jamboree going on outside.
"There are non-stop activities on any given Saturday," Garciga said. "All these fields are being used from morning until the sun goes down and beyond."
T.R. Sullivan has covered the Rangers since 1989, and for MLB.com since 2006. Follow him on Twitter @Sullivan_Ranger and listen to his podcast.