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Wrigley event champions 'lifestyle of activity'

Special to MLB.com

CHICAGO -- Cubs manager Joe Maddon has dubbed the current homestand "American Legion Week" and told his players to eliminate much of their usual pregame routine. He wants them to rest up and just go out and play -- like they did when they played in summer leagues as kids.

Fittingly, the Wrigley Field playing surface was taken over late Tuesday morning by a group of about 75 players from local high schools and other youngsters as the Cubs organization hosted a 2017 National PLAY Campaign event.

CHICAGO -- Cubs manager Joe Maddon has dubbed the current homestand "American Legion Week" and told his players to eliminate much of their usual pregame routine. He wants them to rest up and just go out and play -- like they did when they played in summer leagues as kids.

Fittingly, the Wrigley Field playing surface was taken over late Tuesday morning by a group of about 75 players from local high schools and other youngsters as the Cubs organization hosted a 2017 National PLAY Campaign event.

The PLAY event -- Promoting a Lifetime of Activity for Youth -- was part of a traveling series that will visit all 30 Major League ballparks this season and was hosted by the Professional Baseball Athletic Trainers Society.

• Complete Youth Baseball coverage

The players were joined on the field by other kids from the National Down Syndrome Society, and everyone took part in some casual baseball drills and even got to hit in the Cubs' new batting cage under the left-field stands.

The event, though, was about much more than baseball.

"This isn't a skills camp where we're teaching them the skills of baseball," said Mark O'Neal, the PBATS president and the Cubs' director of medical services. "It's just to get them out on the field and let them enjoy the Wrigley Field experience: fly balls, ground balls, hitting. The majority of what we're trying to do is get across the message of the PLAY Campaign, which is to promote a lifestyle of activity to try and really educate them on being active and combat childhood obesity."

Cubs head trainer PJ Mainville worked with several groups of 15-20 at a time, and he talked to them mostly about nutrition and proper hydration, as well as how the ingredients that athletes put into their bodies can affect their performance. Mainville then ran everyone through some basic warmup drills -- just like the ones the Cubs usually do before batting practice.

"I think the platform that we're on here opens up an opportunity for them to come see how things are done on this level," Mainville said. "I think there's more buy-in: 'If these guys are doing it, then I think it's something I feel like I'm more apt to try.'

"Obviously, we're providing options for these guys and the knowledge base to make good decisions for their health -- staying active, their nutrition decisions -- and ultimately giving them a little piece of that puzzle and seeing how far they can take their own athletic abilities."

Some of the players may have heard elements of Mainville's message before, but he had everyone's rapt attention. Wrigley Field will do that.

"Definitely," Mainville said. "This stage here is rare, not only the youth, but I think the parents have as much fun coming down here. It makes our job easier to grab their attention."

John Miller of the Henry Schein Cares Foundation talked with small groups in the Cubs' dugout about a variety of non-baseball issues, including proper hydration, the importance of cleanliness and the benefits of getting sufficient sleep.

Tavis Piattoly of the Taylor Hooton Foundation -- which is named for a former youth player who died from steroid use -- also talked about using nutrition to reach physical goals instead of looking for shortcuts.

"You look at guys like Jake Arrieta that take great care of themselves and focus on the food first, nutrition," he said, referring to the Cubs right-hander.

"Right now, we have about 2 million high school students that use anabolic steroids, and the last thing they think about is nutrition. They're looking for that answer because they're not thinking about their diet. If they just changed a couple of things with their diet, they wouldn't be looking for that answer in a pill or a powder."

John Jackson is a contributor to MLB.com based in Chicago.

Chicago Cubs