In the three years since Commissioner Rob Manfred announced an enhanced and elaborate commitment to attracting young people to the game of baseball, he has relied on an army of staffers to implement myriad projects.
At the forefront of the efforts was Tony Reagins, who was promoted to executive vice president of baseball and softball development on Tuesday.
In his new role, Reagins, who joined the Commissioner's Office in March 2015 as senior vice president of youth programs, will oversee the growth of youth and amateur levels of the sport, while also expanding the efforts on a more global level. He will also oversee the Arizona Fall League, as well as scouting amateur baseball around the world.
"Tony Reagins has led some of our sport's most important initiatives, which has resulted in significant and tangible gains in the youth and amateur spaces," Manfred said. "We look forward to Tony excelling in this expanded role and continuing our momentum in an area that is vital to the game's future."
Given the success of the movement to increase baseball and softball playing on a domestic level, taking those practices both at the grassroots and development stages and implementing them internationally is a logical next step.
"Coming here, my focus was really on domestic growth and domestic participation," Reagins said. "What you'll see now and going forward is an emphasis not only on domestic programming but international programming as well, working alongside in tandem along with our business folks to grow participation around the world."
Reagins and his staff will continue to grow MLB's signature youth program, Play Ball, which launched in June 2015 and has been embraced by hundreds of cities across the United States and Puerto Rico. To date, the program includes involvement with USA Baseball, USA Softball, Minor League Baseball, the U.S. Conference of Mayors and Little League International.
Reagins also has led the proliferation of the "Breakthrough Series" amateur development camps, and he oversees Reviving Baseball in Inner Cities (RBI), MLB Youth Academies, the Elite Development Invitational and the Andre Dawson Classic.
"All of these organizations are starting to be active in terms of Play Ball, which only helps our message and helps our brand as it relates to growth and engagement for young people around the country," Reagins said. "Our plan is to do the same activation around the world. Our ultimate goal is to engage young people wherever they are."
Research shows that MLB's youth movement has been working. Play Ball is an expansive program, but the premise is simple: invite kids to a baseball field, provide them with bats, balls, T-shirts and instruction, and encourage them to just play ball.
In May 2017, the Sports & Fitness Industry Association announced that with nearly 25 million participants, baseball and softball combined to rank as the most participated team sports in the United States.
Overall baseball participation increased by 7.7 percent, and slow-pitch softball participation increased by 8.1 percent. Casual participation in both baseball and slow-pitch softball showing the highest growth, rising by 18.1 percent and 12.4 percent, respectively.
"There is a direct correlation to being introduced to the game at a very young age and becoming a lifelong fan," Reagins said. "Not necessarily an avid fan, but a fan of the game. That's what we're trying to accomplish."
Reagins recalled one Play Ball event that emphasized how a simple afternoon of playing baseball can mean so much.
The event was in Flint, Mich., where the ongoing investigation of the lack of a clean water supply had thrust the city into the national spotlight. Most of the kids who attended the Play Ball event that day had never played baseball. With some gentle instruction and encouragement, it took only about 15 minutes for them to figure it out and show real potential.
"A young lady came up to me after that event and said this was the best day of her life," Reagins said.
Fifteen minutes to create a fan for life? Sold.
"What that told me is if you introduce the game to a young person and they like it, there's a chance that they'll like it long term and be pretty good at it," Reagins said. "These kids just didn't have an opportunity to play.
"If we can create that type of reaction over and over again all around the world, that's success to me."