Before the season began, Major League Baseball released the 2019 slogan to its worldwide fan base: "Let the Kids Play." But that rally cry wasn't targeting only the players wearing Major League uniforms -- it was meant to be inclusive to everyone, including young people from all over who enjoy watching the game, and playing it, too.
And the kids played, a lot. Many of them played so much that it earned them a trip to the World Series, to be honored on the field during pregame ceremonies on Saturday at Nationals Park, for high accomplishments, or to simply be a part of baseball's celebration of its annual crowned jewel event.
The list of young people MLB dispatched to Washington for Game 4 was lengthy. They were part of ceremonial first pitches, game ball deliveries and pregame salutes.
• Janyia Freeman, a Nationals Youth Baseball Academy scholar-athlete, threw out the ceremonial first pitch, accompanied by current Nationals Anthony Rendon and Max Scherzer, both ardent supporters of the academy.
• Boys & Girls Clubs of America's 2019-20 National Youth of the Year Sabrina McFarland delivered the game ball. A club member for 12 years, McFarland credits her club with giving her an outlet to express herself. She's now a freshman at Barnard College, Columbia University and has aspirations to become a U.S. congresswoman.
• Several members from each championship team of the 2019 RBI World Series were also recognized during pregame ceremonies. Teams include Chicago White Sox RBI (junior baseball division out of Chicago), Arizona Diamondbacks RBI (senior baseball division out of Phoenix) and Houston Astros RBI (softball division out of Houston).
• Ten members of the MLB Youth Academies from around the country were saluted. The members are their respective Academy’s "Youth of the Year," which recognizes a member who has had a positive year on and off the field, has overcome challenges in their lives or has made a positive impact in their community. This year's honorees include Isabella “Bella” Leon, 15, from the MLB Youth Academy in Compton, Calif.; Alexa Poche, 17, from the New Orleans MLB Youth Academy; Nicholas Thomas, 13, from the Houston Astros MLB Youth Academy in Houston; Milan Schilling, 18, from the P&G Cincinnati Reds MLB Youth Academy in Cincinnati; Julian "Juice" McPherson, 14, from the Washington Nationals Youth Baseball Academy in Washington; Emily Gordon, 17, from the Philadelphia Phillies MLB Urban Youth Academy in Philadelphia; Kylie Cox, 17, from the Texas Rangers Baseball Youth Academy in Dallas; Ramon Bonilla, 17, from the Roberto Clemente MLB Youth Academy/DREAM in the Bronx, N.Y.; Jared Fulghem, 17, from the Kansas City Royals MLB Urban Youth Academy in Kansas City; and Joseph Cruz Torres, 18, from the Puerto Rico Baseball High School & Academy in Gurabo, Puerto Rico.
MLB's Youth Academies aim to set the standard for mentorship and development in underserved communities through professional-level baseball and softball instruction, education assistance and career development programs -- all while serving as positive members of their respective communities.
Since their inception, the cost-free year-round academies have seen more than 500 players go on to play on the collegiate level, more than 100 players drafted by MLB clubs and many more establish non-playing careers in baseball.
• And finally, the inaugural season of the Jennie Finch Empowerment Award presented by ARM & HAMMER, which honored four young women who demonstrated powerful characteristics, concluded prior to Game 4. During a special on-field pregame ceremony, representatives from Church & Dwight Co., Inc., presented a $40,000 donation -- $5,000 on behalf of each winner and an additional donation of $20,000 -- to the MLB Youth Foundation to benefit softball development initiatives.
Finch and the four Jennie Finch Empowerment Award winners were recognized. An MLB blue-ribbon panel, including Finch, chose the winners, with one representing each of the following MLB softball development events: Breakthrough Series, Jennie Finch All-Star Classic, Elite Development Invitational and the RBI World Series.
The four winners were Daniela Ureña from Passaic, N.J. (Breakthrough Series); Regina Fletcher from New Orleans (Jennie Finch Classic); Jaelynn Barrios from Jersey City, N.J. (Elite Development Invitational); and Valerie Orona from Anaheim (RBI World Series).