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'Fun' in the sun: MLB teams up for school event

USA Baseball holds special recess event for 100 students
MLB.com

ORLANDO, Fla. -- From the moment Luke Gregerson, Zach Eflin and Max Moroff arrived at Bay Meadows Elementary School on Tuesday, the music was playing and the kids were boisterous.

"Pure excitement," Gregerson said.

ORLANDO, Fla. -- From the moment Luke Gregerson, Zach Eflin and Max Moroff arrived at Bay Meadows Elementary School on Tuesday, the music was playing and the kids were boisterous.

"Pure excitement," Gregerson said.

In truth, pure excitement would have been present even if three big league ballplayers weren't in the kids' presence, because, hey, they were out of class and outside on a sun-splashed Florida morning, and what's not to love about that?

But the Fun At Bat event staged by USA Baseball, under the umbrella of Major League Baseball's Play Ball initiative, was no ordinary recess for the roughly 100 students on hand. Moroff, the Pirates infielder, set up balls on a tee for the kids to swat. Gregerson, the World Series champion reliever who just signed with the Cardinals, instructed the kids as they ran the bases. Eflin, the young Phillies right-hander, read to a group of students from a baseball-themed book that focused on character and leadership development.

Mere minutes from baseball's Winter Meetings gathering, this was an in-school avenue for the game to grow future athletes and fans and also good citizens -- something the kids at Bay Meadows are already learning a lot about with their school district taking in more than 2,000 students who were displaced by the recent natural disasters in Puerto Rico and Mexico.

"The sport is one thing," said Rob Bixler, an executive curriculum director for Orange County Public Schools. "We all love baseball. It's a great pastime. But also the ability to interact with your peers, knowing good character education, how to get along, teamwork skills -- all those things combine to make this a phenomenal program."

Video: Moroff on participating in Fun At Bat event

USA Baseball and MLB have ambitious goals for the program. The pilot phase of Fun At Bat reached 490 schools and more than 300,000 kids this year. The hope is to reach over a million kids by the end of 2018, in all corners of the country.

"We want to be limitless," said Paul Seiler, USA Baseball's chief executive officer. "It can't just be about sport. At the end of the day, we want to build character and good people, because that's where we're going to create a ripple and do things that are positive. This [program] moves the needle."

With the curriculum guided by SHAPE America and Franklin Sports providing the plastic bats and balls and other equipment the kids can use to in their physical education classes, Fun At Bat joins Summer Slugger -- a baseball-themed online learning program to help kids retain information from the previous school year -- and Shred Hate -- a program with partner ESPN that helps teachers, administrators and students reduce incidents of bullying -- as efforts by MLB to provide official playing curriculum within school.

"They're in class, in their school element, which is important," said Tony Reagins, MLB's senior vice president of youth programs. "It's allowing us to really dig at the grassroots level and reach kids all around the country. That's really exciting. The program is still in its infancy stages, but the responses we've had across the country in implementing it has been outstanding."

Video: Eflin on participating in Fun At Bat event

Having three current Major Leaguers in attendance brought the event -- and the excitement -- to another level, and all three got a kick out of the kids' raw and real enthusiasm.

"I'm lucky to be out here with them," Moroff said. "I didn't have anything like this as a kid."

Orange County Public Schools became the biggest district, to date, to utilize the Fun At Bat program, and USA Baseball and MLB hope to keep the forward momentum going.

"If you're an administrator anywhere in the country and have interest in this program, reach out to us," Seiler said. "We want to bring the goodness and the positivity of this program to you. No matter where you are, we'll find a way to make it work."

Anthony Castrovince has been a reporter for MLB.com since 2004. Read his columns and follow him on Twitter at @Castrovince.

This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

Manfred chosen for Little League's highest honor

Commissioner will be enshrined in Hall of Excellence in January
MLB.com

Next month, Major League Baseball Commissioner Rob Manfred will complete a lifelong journey from gritty shortstop on his Rome (N.Y.) Little League team to enshrinement in the Little League Hall of Excellence.

Little League Baseball announced on Wednesday that the Commissioner -- in honor of his dedication to the growth of youth baseball and softball, his commitment to pursuing excellence, and his positive influence as a role model to aspiring Little Leaguers -- will be presented with that organization's highest honor at the 27th Little League International Congress on Jan. 19 in New Orleans.

Next month, Major League Baseball Commissioner Rob Manfred will complete a lifelong journey from gritty shortstop on his Rome (N.Y.) Little League team to enshrinement in the Little League Hall of Excellence.

Little League Baseball announced on Wednesday that the Commissioner -- in honor of his dedication to the growth of youth baseball and softball, his commitment to pursuing excellence, and his positive influence as a role model to aspiring Little Leaguers -- will be presented with that organization's highest honor at the 27th Little League International Congress on Jan. 19 in New Orleans.

"I am honored to be enshrined in the Little League Hall of Excellence alongside the many great men and women who have come before me," Commissioner Manfred said. "The successes that Major League Baseball has had with our youth outreach efforts would not be possible without terrific partnerships, like the one we have built with everyone at Little League. The organization shares our belief that anyone who wants to play our great game should have that opportunity. We are very proud of the work we have already done together, but know there is plenty more to come in the future."

"It will be an honor to welcome Commissioner Manfred into the Little League Hall of Excellence," said Hugh Tanner, chairman of Little League International's board of directors. "His commitment to the growth and development of youth baseball and softball in communities around the world, and the support that he has shown for the Little League program during his time as Commissioner, has been greatly appreciated by those of us at the grassroots level. Both of our futures are bright working together."

In 2015, Manfred became the first alumnus of Little League elected as MLB Commissioner. His dedication to the youth was evident from the beginning as he made his first major public appearance as Commissioner-elect at the 2014 Little League Baseball World Series, throwing out the first pitch of the August game between the Mid-Atlantic Region (Taney Little League) and the West Region (Mountain Ridge Little League).

During Manfred's tenure, there has been a major focus on connecting and engaging youth in baseball and softball through initiatives and events such as Play Ball; MLB Pitch, Hit & Run; the Jr. Home Run Derby; All-Star Week-related activities; and Little League Days at MLB ballparks.

In August, MLB introduced the Little League Classic, a special regular-season game between the Pirates and Cardinals in Williamsport, Pa., during the Little League World Series. As part of the festivities surrounding the Little League Classic, players from both Major League teams attended the Little League Baseball World Series in a first-of-its-kind show of support for youth baseball. Later that night, the players and families of the 16 teams competing in the Little League World Series then had the unique opportunity to attend the MLB Little League Classic at Historic Bowman Field, marking the first MLB experience for many of the youth.

Video: STL@PIT: Manfred discusses playing Little League

Following the success of the inaugural game, MLB and Little League will once again hold the MLB Little League Classic in 2018, with a game between the Phillies and Mets on Aug. 19.

"Major League Baseball's greatest responsibility is to ensure that today's youth become active participants in our game as players and fans," Manfred said. "The MLB Little League Classic exemplifies our entire sport's commitment to building a stronger connection between young people and the national pastime."

As part of the celebration of the inaugural MLB Little League Classic, Manfred played a pivotal role in the formation of an official partnership between MLB and Little League International to continue fostering interest and encouraging participation in youth-centered baseball and softball activities. As part of the partnership, MLB and Little League will collaborate on various youth and fan initiatives, and also provide visibility for these programs through a number of platforms, including digital and social media.

Manfred's official enshrinement into the Little League Hall of Excellence will take place during Little League International's Quadrennial Congress. Following the ceremony, Manfred will participate in a special keynote conversation with Little League president and CEO Stephen Keener, to be broadcast on Facebook Live through Little League's official page at facebook.com/LittleLeague.

Enshrinement in the Little League Hall of Excellence, established in 1988, is an annual honor bestowed upon a Little League graduate (or graduates) who have demonstrated a commitment to excellence in their chosen profession and exemplify the values learned as children in Little League baseball or softball. Manfred will become the 56th member of the Hall. Kevin Costner, Bruce Springsteen and President George W. Bush are among past inductees.

Eligible recipients must have played in a chartered Little League and become a recognized role model as an adult.

Mark Newman is enterprise editor of MLB.com and a baseball writer since 1990. Follow him on Twitter @Marathoner.

This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

6 Compton YA players commit to D-1 colleges

MLB.com

COMPTON, Calif. -- The future is bright for six amateur baseball players who signed National Letters of Intent to play NCAA Division I college baseball during a ceremony Saturday afternoon at MLB's Youth Academy in Compton.

"This is what it's all about," said Tony Reagins, MLB's senior vice president of youth programs.

COMPTON, Calif. -- The future is bright for six amateur baseball players who signed National Letters of Intent to play NCAA Division I college baseball during a ceremony Saturday afternoon at MLB's Youth Academy in Compton.

"This is what it's all about," said Tony Reagins, MLB's senior vice president of youth programs.

Julian Boyd and Rhese Gomez are headed to the University of Nevada-Reno; Matthew Elizade is going to Loyola Marymount University; Tristan Thomas signed with the University of the Pacific; Julian Tristan chose Santa Clara University; and Yuji Sakane is on his way to Pepperdine University.

• MLB Youth Academy duo commit to colleges

For Boyd, a native of Compton, Saturday represented the next step in a baseball journey that began a few blocks away from the Youth Academy.

"It's a little bit more special than signing at school, just because of all the help they gave me," said Boyd, a left-handed pitcher and outfielder. "My dad used to take me here after school every day when I was 10 to 12. Two years straight, every day, just coming to get work. It was big."

Thomas said he's been waiting for this day since he was a freshman at Ayala High School in Chino, Calif.

"I just feel like it's a great opportunity for me to go to college, get a great education and continue doing what I love," said Thomas, an outfielder. "The Academy helped me by growing up, seeing guys like Dominic Smith, Hunter Greene make it. It really helped me believe in myself."

Tristan, a right-handed pitcher and outfielder, said he would not have made it this far in his baseball career without his family and the support of the YA.

"It's great having the Youth Academy behind me," Tristan said. "Being able to learn from a bunch of former Major League players is something that not everybody gets a chance to do. I'm really blessed to be in this situation."

Sakane, a left-handed pitcher, said Saturday's ceremony "means a lot, because ever since I started playing baseball, playing in college has been one of my goals."

Elizade called it a "blessing" and a "dream come true" to earn a scholarship to play college baseball as a catcher.

Darrell Miller, MLB's president of youth and facility development, was pleased to see two left-handed pitchers, two right-handed pitchers and a catcher among the signing class.

"This is really a proud moment," Miller said. "This is the best group of prospects that are in those skill-specific positions that we have really been trying to support. This is a good day."

The most important thing for these players moving forward is a college education.

"It's been a long run, but it feels good to finally feel like you've gotten to a point where you've accomplished a big part of what you wanted to do since you started playing ball," said Gomez, a right-handed pitcher and outfielder. "It's always a big thing to get your college education out of baseball."

All six players were aided in their baseball and academic development by the staff at the YA in Compton. In addition, Boyd, Gomez, Thomas, Tristan and Sakane participated in MLB's Breakthrough Series and the MLB Players Association Elite Development Invitational camp.

Austin Laymance is a reporter for MLB.com based in Los Angeles.

This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

Stroman holds youth clinic on Long Island

Gold Glove winner hosts free program in hometown as part of 'Players Going Home' initiative
MLB.com

NEW YORK -- Four days after winning his first career Gold Glove, Marcus Stroman was back on Long Island, telling a crowd of eager young listeners all about it, and showing them how they could follow in his footsteps to a big league pitcher's mound.

The Blue Jays right-hander, who grew up on Long Island and attended Patchogue-Medford High School, spent Saturday morning hosting a free youth baseball clinic organized by Pro Camps at Hofstra University, part of MLB's "Players Going Home" program.

NEW YORK -- Four days after winning his first career Gold Glove, Marcus Stroman was back on Long Island, telling a crowd of eager young listeners all about it, and showing them how they could follow in his footsteps to a big league pitcher's mound.

The Blue Jays right-hander, who grew up on Long Island and attended Patchogue-Medford High School, spent Saturday morning hosting a free youth baseball clinic organized by Pro Camps at Hofstra University, part of MLB's "Players Going Home" program.

Tweet from @MStrooo6: Unbelievable first camp in the books. Shout to @MLB_PLAYERS and @ProCamps for making it all happen. Loved every second and interaction! pic.twitter.com/SuOhfMcQgt

"Being from Long Island, this is home base," Stroman said. "My family still lives here. This is where my roots are, this is where I'm from, this is where I was raised. So to be able to come back here and have this camp for kids that are in the same position I was in, it's special."

During the clinic, Stroman spoke to the group -- boys and girls ranging from first through eighth grade -- about his path from Patchogue to the Major Leagues, his approach to baseball on and off the field, the importance of education, getting his degree at Duke University and more.

After being announced as the American League's Gold Glove winner at pitcher on Tuesday, his award naturally came up. Stroman used that as an opportunity to stress to the kids in attendance the benefits of staying involved with different activities, crediting playing multiple sports for his athleticism. Later, he talked about the pride he took in winning the Gold Glove, saying it was "the one award that I always really wanted."

Video: Stroman discusses winning Gold Glove Award

"It's surreal," Stroman said. "Being surrounded by [Dave] Winfield, Reggie Jackson, [Derek] Jeter, Ozzie Smith -- a bunch of greatness in one room. That only makes me want to work harder. Just to be in that, I'm extremely lucky, and blessed I had my whole family there. It was kind of an awesome accumulation -- the [World Baseball Classic], throwing 200 innings this past year, and the hard work that not only myself but my whole family put into it."

Stroman was one of two AL East pitchers to give back to their local community on Saturday. The Rays' Chris Archer also helped run a Players Going Home clinic in his hometown of Clayton, N.C.

In the indoor athletic facility on Hofstra's campus, Stroman was hands-on all morning. When the participants rotated through various coaching stations, Stroman circled around to every one, helping run the drills, offering tips and fielding questions -- and always smiling. When they split up to play games of Wiffle ball, he took time to pitch on every field.

Stroman's family and several friends joined him for the clinic, including his father Earl and mother Adlin Auffant, as did the MLB Players Association's Omar Minaya. They announced several donations to local causes, including one to Stroman's high school baseball program.

As he thanked the players and their parents at the end of the day, Stroman said he planned to continue his community involvement, including doing more youth camps, and that he was working on setting up a foundation as well.

"I realize how big of a role I can have in their lives, how influential I could be," Stroman said. "Just by coming out here, just keeping it casual, just being around them, just answering any crazy questions they have, or just throwing the ball with them. I love being around them and I realize how much that can do for their spirits and going forward."

David Adler is a reporter for MLB.com based in New York. Follow him on Twitter at @_dadler.

This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

Toronto Blue Jays, Marcus Stroman

MLB Youth Academy duo commit to colleges

Burns, Williams -- alumni of the New Orleans program -- sign with Tulane and Mississippi State, respectively
MLB.com

NEW ORLEANS -- For Collin Burns and Basiel Williams, Saturday capped off years of hard work and marked the start of a new journey, as they signed collegiate letters of intent.

Seated at a table on the field at the New Orleans Major League Baseball Academy, Williams and Burns signed to play collegiate baseball at Mississippi State and Tulane, respectively. It was at Wesley Barrow Stadium where the two spent four years training and improving their baseball skills.

NEW ORLEANS -- For Collin Burns and Basiel Williams, Saturday capped off years of hard work and marked the start of a new journey, as they signed collegiate letters of intent.

Seated at a table on the field at the New Orleans Major League Baseball Academy, Williams and Burns signed to play collegiate baseball at Mississippi State and Tulane, respectively. It was at Wesley Barrow Stadium where the two spent four years training and improving their baseball skills.

• 6 Compton UYA players commit to D-1 colleges

Burns said the academy helped improve his swing, fielding ground balls and his approach to baseball.

"It definitely has a professional feel to it," Burns said of training at the academy. "As a 12-year-old coming here, it felt like I was a little Major League Baseball player -- and that motivated me to work harder, for sure."

The facility offers free year-round baseball and softball instruction, something Williams took advantage of -- even if it meant traveling 60 miles from Hammond, La., two to three times a week for training.

"First rate, first class," said Williams' father, Basiel Sr., about the academy. "Detailed, organized. It's just what a young player needs to progress and get to that next level."

Besides baseball, the facility also offers vocational programs such as broadcasting, field maintenance, umpiring, sports law and after-school homework assistance.

Burns, who stayed down the street from the facility, found an interest in the sports law program. Eddie Davis -- a former 23rd-round Draft pick by the Dodgers in 1991 who manages the field and leads most of the training instruction -- reached out to a professor at Tulane's law school to come to the academy to teach the students about the business side of baseball. A mock arbitration trial was even held.

"It sparked an interest that I didn't even know," Burns said. "It was part of baseball -- how free agents are handled in baseball, just management of baseball teams. The management side of baseball that never really gets talked about."

The New Orleans MLB Youth Academy, which opened in 2012, replaced a 55-year-old facility that was devastated by Hurricane Katrina. The facility also operates in conjunction with the New Orleans Recreation Development Commission to offer educational and baseball programming for youth in under-served communities throughout Southern Louisiana.

After going through the recruiting process as a 17-year-old, Davis was able to pass along some knowledge to Burns and Williams about dealing with college coaches and how to handle the process.

"He's been a great help," said Williams. "A great role model. He helped me with all the colleges and going to different tournaments."

For Davis, to see Williams and Burns go off to college to play baseball is why he "gets out of bed" every day.

"This is what makes the job fun," Davis said. "This is what you would do for free. You want to help kids. I played [college baseball] and was fortunate enough to play professionally for five years, and you know I kind of wanted to pave the way to make it smoother for these guys."

Joshua Thornton is a reporter for MLB.com based in Los Angeles.

This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

Kids enjoy Play Ball event at Fall Stars Game

Prospects Bellow, Almonte provide encouragement before activities
Special to MLB.com

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- As Arizona Fall League director Steve Cobb stood in front of approximately 250 kids Saturday, he made it clear there was only one requirement for the afternoon.

"That you have fun," Cobb said.

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- As Arizona Fall League director Steve Cobb stood in front of approximately 250 kids Saturday, he made it clear there was only one requirement for the afternoon.

"That you have fun," Cobb said.

Major League Baseball celebrated the AFL's Fall Stars Game with a special Play Ball event at Salt River Fields, the Spring Training home of the Arizona Diamondbacks and Colorado Rockies. For an hour and 30 minutes, local kids ages 6 to 12 got to go through six stations of baseball-and-softball-related activities -- grounders and popups, agility, baserunning, two simulated mini-games and a home run derby.

"We want to show that there's an opportunity for play no matter who you are, no matter what size you are, or where you come from," said Bennett Shields, a staff member for MLB's youth programs department. "There's an opportunity to play our sport. It might not mean playing it at the highest level, that's fine."

And because the event preceded the 12th annual Fall Stars Game, the youth also got to hear from a couple of players in that game. The D-backs' Kirby Bellow and Rockies' Yency Almonte stopped by before the event began to give the kids a few words of encouragement.

Both players related a few of their first memories in baseball. Bellow said he hit a home run on his dad's birthday three straight years. Almonte, now a right-handed pitcher, recalled his excitement when his older brother hit a home run, though he admittedly didn't know what it meant at the time.

Both agreed that Play Ball serves an important purpose.

"For me, it's just keeping them fit, keeping them out of the streets, having something to do," Almonte said. "Not just being at home playing video games, but being active."

As one boy walked into the field with his father, he ran to the warning track, mesmerized at its size. He then proceeded to act like he was running back to the wall to rob a home run.

Holding the event at Salt River Fields provided a bit of a big league feel, and that was only strengthened when kids heard from Bellow and Almonte.

"It brings you down to earth," said 13-year-old Connor Derivan, who called the Minor Leaguers' talks "inspirational."

The on-field drills aren't difficult, but are designed to teach kids basic skills. Tony Reagins, MLB's senior vice president of youth programs, said he hopes the participants will eventually become lifelong fans of the sport.

"They're our future; that's why we do what we do, so these kids can have a chance to participate in our game," Reagins said.

As initiatives like Play Ball continue to grow, the main goal will remain the same.

"Bringing baseball to places it's really never been before," Reagins said.

Justin Toscano is a contributor to MLB.com.

This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

Arizona Diamondbacks, Colorado Rockies, Yency Almonte, Kirby Bellow

Kids enjoy Play Ball event before G4 action

MLB.com

HOUSTON -- There was no Houston Astros Youth Academy in this space the last time the local Major League Baseball team hosted World Series games back in 2005. On a bright and breezy Saturday morning, it was the center of attention as legends and top baseball executives gathered with about 500 kids for a Play Ball event before the Dodgers' 6-2 win over the Astros in Game 4, which evened the Series at 2-2.

World Series Gm 5: Tonight, 8 p.m. ET on FOX

Full Game Coverage

HOUSTON -- There was no Houston Astros Youth Academy in this space the last time the local Major League Baseball team hosted World Series games back in 2005. On a bright and breezy Saturday morning, it was the center of attention as legends and top baseball executives gathered with about 500 kids for a Play Ball event before the Dodgers' 6-2 win over the Astros in Game 4, which evened the Series at 2-2.

World Series Gm 5: Tonight, 8 p.m. ET on FOX

Full Game Coverage

"I think youth participation is the future of our sport," Commissioner Rob Manfred said as he spoke to kids and joined in the festivities as part of his ongoing signature initiative. "The best way to get the best athletes is a big pipeline, lots of kids playing. Not everybody is going to become a Major League player, but if they play, they are more likely to be fans in the future.

Dress for the World Series: Get Astros postseason gear

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"The idea with Play Ball is it's an umbrella for all sorts of programs. Events like today are really simple ways to introduce kids to the game, getting them playing in a format they can grasp -- not uniforms, not formal play. Play Ball encompasses everything right up through the elite development camps, which are designed for players who we hope are going to be Major Leaguers someday."

Maybe somewhere among those 500 kids there will be Draft picks. Maybe there will be a star like Cubs first baseman Anthony Rizzo, who pitched a plastic ball to them on one field. Maybe there will be an Olympic gold medalist like Jennie Finch, MLB's youth programs ambassador, who did the same. Maybe there will be a local legend like Jimmy Wynn, the three-time All-Star who is still a fixture here after doing so much to put Houston baseball on the map in the 1960s.

Among the other dignitaries joining Manfred at the event were Astros owner and chairman Jim Crane; Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner; Tony Reagins, MLB's senior vice president of youth programs; Rick Riccobono, USA Baseball's chief development officer; and Destinee Martinez, USA Softball national team alumna.

Various players from youth-affiliated programs were there, including 2017 RBI World Series Champions (Hilo, Hawaii -- Senior division baseball; Philadelphia -- Junior division baseball; and St. Louis -- softball); "Youth Of The Year" from every MLB Youth Academy (Cincinnati, Compton, Dallas, Houston, New Orleans, Philadelphia and Washington, D.C.); American Legion National Champions, Post 40, from Henderson, Nev.

The kids participated in a series of fun baseball and softball activities that highlight the many ways the game can be played. Additionally, each participant received a bat and ball set, plus Play Ball-branded T-shirts and wristbands to take home. The Positive Coaching Alliance ran a "parent station" to provide more information about youth involvement in baseball and softball. Nathan's Famous provided hot dogs and other fun interactive activities for the kids.

Tweet from @marathoner: Hey, look: @ARizzo44 is still making big plays at the #WorldSeries. #Cubs #PlayBall pic.twitter.com/kLJfj6CoXD

Crane noted that the Astros Youth Academy field has been here a while, emphasizing how much all that activity has helped in keeping youth in a safe and active setting.

"Baseball's done a great job with the Play Ball initiative," Crane said. "It's great to get kids in the community to get exposure to baseball, whether they play high school baseball or beyond, but also it's a learning experience and a team game, and you learn a lot about life playing baseball. To get the kids exposed, have a great place for them to play where they can be safe, is really a testament to Major League Baseball and all the communities that participate."

Additionally, MLB activated a Shred Hate station as part of the new partnership with ESPN on its innovative bullying prevention program. Shred Hate seeks to eliminate bullying by encouraging kids to choose kindness. As part of the program, No Bully works directly with local school districts and cooperating schools through its innovative curriculum.

Video: Rizzo, Manfred join Houston in Play Ball event

MLB will activate Shred Hate in Chicago and Washington, as well as expand existing programs in Minneapolis. The ultimate goal of Shred Hate is to cause a tangible reduction of bullying incidents in schools by igniting the compassion of youth.

"Something like this is fun," Rizzo said. "As a kid, I remember growing up, and you get in big groups like this and you can play baseball and go run around. Especially with the Play Ball program and in the inner cities, you get these kids to the field, teach them about baseball a little bit. If they learn just one thing today and have one memory that they can share with their friends, that's an accomplishment. That's what we're trying to do. Major League Baseball does such a great job with all these Play Ball programs and all these camps. It's fun to be a part of."

Girl with robotic hand throws inspiring first pitch

Hailey Dawson, the 7-year-old girl from Nevada who dramatically threw out the Game 4 first pitch, showed off her new, customized World Series 3-D printed bionic hand at the Play Ball event. She got to meet Rizzo, the Commissioner, Finch and others.

Video: WS2017 Gm4: Dawson tosses first pitch to Altuve

Rizzo warmed up Hailey so she would be comfortable throwing, and she blew a bounced fastball by him as he whiffed with a plastic bat (for fun). Then, he signed Hailey's artificial hand, just as Jose Altuve did later after the ceremonial first pitch.

"I told her to have fun, take a deep breath," Rizzo said. "This is really cool for her, I got to play catch with her. What an inspiration. She's not going to let any disability or disease stop her. It's really cool that Major League Baseball is recognizing her and letting her throw out the first pitch."

Manfred introduced himself to Hailey and her family.

"I can't tell you how excited we are to have you here tonight," he told her. "We're really thrilled to have you."

After that meeting, Manfred said, "I just had a chance to meet Hailey. She's really a terrific young lady. It's an honor for Major League Baseball to have her here to throw out the first pitch. It's an amazing scientific and medical accomplishment."

Crane added: "It just says anybody can recover from a disability and be productive, and we're just glad to have her doing it. It's a big testament to her and gives kids a lot of incentive to get out there and play ball."

Video: WS2017 Gm4: Oswalt, Boys & Girls Club give game ball

Manfred said the goal is to continue to grow the Play Ball program after a few years of establishing a foundation across the continent. Events like this at the World Series and All-Star Week are now common, and they happen elsewhere year-round.

"We want to continue to build relationships like the one we have with Little League, to make sure any kid who wants to play has a chance to do so," Manfred said. "The key to Play Ball's success has been picking the right partners. The U.S. Conference of Mayors has been an unbelievable partner for us, holding Play Ball events around the country. I think we had 220 during the month of August. We want to continue to build on that relationship.

"But it's not just the mayors. Little League has been a great partner. Cal Ripken Baseball is really supportive of our efforts at the more elite level. So we want to continue to build those partnerships to make sure kids are playing the game."

Mark Newman is enterprise editor of MLB.com and a baseball writer since 1990. Follow him on Twitter @Marathoner and read and join other baseball fans on his MLB.com/blogs hub.

This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

Houston Astros

Breakthrough Series squad rises to occasion

Program's 14-15-year-old team goes 2-2 in Perfect Game tournament
Special to MLB.com

Major League Baseball's Breakthrough Series has taken the next step. You can say it has broken through.

Competing in the Perfect Game World Wood Bat Association Freshman World Championship over the weekend in West Palm Beach, Fla., the 14-15-year-old team went 2-2 against elite-level competition.

Major League Baseball's Breakthrough Series has taken the next step. You can say it has broken through.

Competing in the Perfect Game World Wood Bat Association Freshman World Championship over the weekend in West Palm Beach, Fla., the 14-15-year-old team went 2-2 against elite-level competition.

The Breakthrough Series, established in 2008, is a joint effort on behalf of USA Baseball and Major League Baseball. This unique program focuses on developing the player on and off the field through seminars, mentorship, gameplay, scout evaluations, video coverage and the highest level of instruction, all while providing a platform for the players to perform for scouts and collegiate coaches. The events are completely cost-free, with USAB covering expenses for the players.

It's a diverse group that makes up the participants in The Breakthrough Series, according to MLB senior director of baseball development Del Matthews.

"There are kids that come up through the academy, possibly through the RBI Programs; different academies, different travel teams," Matthews said. "We have a large network of scouts and people that recommend players for the programs.

"So some of the kids come from less-fortunate situations, and with travel ball being so expensive, a program like this gives them the platform to be able to come and showcase themselves in front of scouts and college coaches."

The program has evolved from simply garnering attention for those who might not otherwise have an opportunity to play and be seen, to reaching a level of competing against the best players and teams throughout the country.

It began with three-day summer showcases that included development drills, games and practices. But, as Matthews points out, that was just a start.

"We wanted to do more," said Matthews, who manages the two MLB initiatives designed to provide professional-level instruction and exposure to diverse youth ballplayers from around the country: The Breakthrough Series and the Elite Development Invitational (EDI).

"So we talked with Perfect Game. They had a tournament and structure in place and an environment for kids that we were cultivating at that age, that were actually playing in tournaments."

Matthews said that it just made sense to create a team out of The Breakthrough Series and EDI to showcase the young players in a game-style setting and tournament play.

"Ultimately if we can get the best number of kids that we can to be on the team to play, and we showcase and we play well, then it's better for the program as a whole," he said.

After dropping the first two games, each by one run (DBacks Langley Blaze, 2-1; and Richmond Braves National, 5-4), The Breakthrough Series rallied for back-to-back shutouts (7-0 over 5 Star National Black; 3-0 over Sheets Baseball 15u).  

"There's a lot of coaches that are interested in the 2021 class," said Matthews, the son of former All-Star outfielder Gary Matthews and the brother of former All-Star outfielder Gary Matthews Jr. "This is really kind of their first look. They'll start following these kids and checking up on them, seeing how they're doing.

"So the kids that are here really get a chance to showcase in front of college coaches for the first time, and really could start the recruiting process for that student-athlete."

The Breakthrough Series provides an opportunity in a time when year-round travel-ball expense is oftentimes significant.

"The dynamics right now is it's a pay-for-play at a young age," said bench coach Jerry Manuel. "We're trying to get the kids that cannot afford to pay, say, X amount of dollars a month. We're about 70 percent single-parent homes, so to get a bat, to get a glove, is an expense that doesn't go on the priority list."

Manuel, who spent nine seasons as a Major League manager, including six with the Chicago White Sox, said he believes that in years to come that those in the program today will eventually come to realize that they were part of a groundbreaking situation.

Third baseman Eldridge Armstrong, from Pasadena, Calif., gets it already.

"It's a blessing," Armstrong said. "It's one of the greatest experiences I've ever had."

It isn't just baseball. The program also includes a very important educational aspect as well. That's where education coordinator Rocky Ghoulson comes in.

"I try to enforce to all athletes that before you are an athlete, you are a student first," said Ghoulson, who has an extensive background in education both in California public schools as well as Sylvan Learning Centers. "Without their grades, there is no athlete part."

Ghoulson said he doesn't consider himself a tutor or a teacher, but rather a farmer.

"I plant seeds that hopefully will grow and one day harvest together," he said. "I tell them that it is their job to water their seeds properly by doing the right things; paying attention to their parents, following the rules, staying out of trouble. That is watering the seeds."

Ghoulson said he also tries to give guidance in use of social media, because he knows college coaches are paying close attention to it.

"What they're checking for is your character," Ghoulson said. "They're investing in you and they're trying to decide whether they want to invest in you or the next kid."

Players were hand-selected to participate in the prestigious Perfect Game Tournament. In all, the team consisted of players from 10 states.

"My experience has been great," said shortstop/pitcher Daniel Corona Jr., who is from Brooklyn, N.Y. "I feel like we're building a great bond. We started a group chat. We're starting to be good friends."

The coaching staff is chock full of Major League experience and also includes manager Lou Collier, pitching coach Tom "Flash" Gordon, and coaches Anthony Manuel, Lenny Webster and Dmitri Young.

"We wanted to have a core group of coaches that help deliver the same message year over year," Matthews said. "Really, the genesis of it started with our relationship with the Players Association and giving former players the opportunity that want to get back into the game, whether that's coaching in high school or developing their own academy."

Catcher Andreaus Lewis, from Atlanta said he's learned some valuable lessons from the vast wealth of knowledge that makes up the coaching staff.

"Me specifically, using my legs when I'm throwing, my hand placement and my stance, and just finishing out through the ball on my back swing," said Lewis, who added that his biggest takeaway is that he's a good player who still has work to do. "If I keep working and doing the right things on and off the field, I can be successful in this game."

The team began taking shape back in Vero Beach, Fla., with the EDI program, according to Matthews.

"We had about 125 kids out there for a week," he said. "They did morning workouts, play games."

That list was narrowed down to about 40, according to Matthews. And from there, availability played a factor in coming up with the final 25.

"It's a fun process, it's the second year we've done it," Matthews said. "Everybody can't make the team, but it's been a great experience and a lot of fun to see the group come together as a team. That week we spent in Vero Beach really set the tone for this opportunity to come out here and showcase in front of college coaches and scouts to hopefully extend their baseball playing careers at the college level."

With a background in player development, Matthews recognizes the opportunity that Major League Baseball is providing through The Breakthrough Series.

"To play in a setting with coaches that have played in the Major Leagues, coaches that have been in their shoes, really gives the kids an opportunity to really feel like they have a chance to be those guys one day," said Matthews.

What are the future goals for The Breakthrough Series?

"More tournaments, more games, more kids getting into college, playing at the next level," Matthews said. "Hopefully some kids have an opportunity to get drafted. Ultimately, the more kids that we can inspire to get into college and play at the Division I level is the ultimate goal.

"Not all the kids will play at that level, but if they can develop some relationships and they're good students, develop a passion and a love for the game, then I think we're a better sport because of it."

Glenn Sattell is a contributor to MLB.com.

This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

At youth tourney, unique rules transform game

MLB, Perfect Game address pace of play with new measures
Special to MLB.com

EMERSON, Ga. -- Over the weekend, 16 teams gathered at Perfect Game Park South-LakePoint for a tournament that pitted some of the top travel teams from across the country against one another.

From the outside, it looked like a normal tournament, but it was far from it. Take the fifth inning of the semifinal game between Canes National and the Upstate Mavericks. With two outs in the top of the fifth, Mavericks outfielder Austin Hunter saw a no-strike, backdoor curveball that caught the edge of the plate. His knees locked, and as the umpire signaled strike, the Canes left the field and Hunter feigned a swing. The swing, coming several seconds late, drew laughs from the crowd and even the home-plate umpire. The inning ended on that pitch, a strike-one curveball.

EMERSON, Ga. -- Over the weekend, 16 teams gathered at Perfect Game Park South-LakePoint for a tournament that pitted some of the top travel teams from across the country against one another.

From the outside, it looked like a normal tournament, but it was far from it. Take the fifth inning of the semifinal game between Canes National and the Upstate Mavericks. With two outs in the top of the fifth, Mavericks outfielder Austin Hunter saw a no-strike, backdoor curveball that caught the edge of the plate. His knees locked, and as the umpire signaled strike, the Canes left the field and Hunter feigned a swing. The swing, coming several seconds late, drew laughs from the crowd and even the home-plate umpire. The inning ended on that pitch, a strike-one curveball.

This is because this 16-team tournament, the Ways to Play tournament powered by Perfect Game and Major League Baseball, featured a rule that deemed a batter out if he took a strike, no matter the count. In fact, this tournament of nine-inning games featured seven unique rules designed by MLB to address growing concerns about the slowed pace of play in baseball.

The other rule changes included:
• Three balls result in a walk.
• No straight or delayed steals.
• A batter must keep a foot in the batter's box at all times.
• No throwing the ball around between batters.
• If a game is tied after nine innings, a runner will be placed on second with one out.
• If a game is tied after 10 innings, bases will be loaded with one out.

While the rules may seem drastic, they've already provided some strong results.

"We've seen quicker games," said Del Matthews, MLB senior director of baseball development. "We've played nine-inning games in an hour and 35, 45 minutes. It's aggressive, but at the end of the day this is a great environment for us to experiment with it."

Aggressive, not drastic, has been the key word for MLB's representatives at the event, including Tony Reagins, senior vice president of youth programs. Reagins also emphasized that this experiment was about improving pace of play and not necessarily about making game times shorter, although that can be a byproduct.

"From our sport's standpoint, this is a test," Reagins said. "Some of these rules may be implemented long term, none of them may be implemented long term. I think it was important for us to get out here and see what the appetite might be for pace of game and time of game. Those two things are very different, pace and time. So we're just trying to get ahead and provide information so you can make smart decisions as you go forward."

The relationship between MLB and Perfect Game was a natural one as Commissioner Rob Manfred put youth baseball on the forefront of his priority list. When MLB approached Perfect Game about the unique tournament idea, president Jerry Ford was intrigued.

"Just the fact that you don't necessarily have to throw a strike but hitters have to protect more, it's different," Ford said. "It definitely hurries the game. I don't even think it ruins the game. I don't think anybody will ever end up doing this. It's just too drastic of a move, but it definitely makes the game more interesting."

Ford and Perfect Game rounded up the participants for the tournament, and even with the unique set of rules, there were more teams that desired to participate than Perfect Game could fit.

From the teams that did participate, reviews have been mixed, although the criticism has been constructive.

"I think the first game it was a little bit of an adjustment for the guys, and they didn't like it at first," said Marquis Grissom, a 17-year Major League veteran and coach of the MLB Breakthrough Series team. "The one I don't like is definitely no stealing. You've got to be able to steal, that's a big part of the game. The part I do like is go up there and swing the bat. … As a coach I like it because it teaches you to go up there and work on that two-strike approach."

East Cobb Yankees come out on top

The East Cobb Yankees, based out of Marietta, Ga., completed back-to-back comebacks on Sunday to capture the Ways to Play championship, beating the Canes, 5-4, in the championship.

The Yankees took a 2-0 lead in the fifth, but immediately surrendered that by allowing three runs in the bottom half of the inning. The Yankees surged in the sixth for three runs of their own, though, thanks to catcher Nicholas Watson-Garcia and shortstop Ryan Bliss, who each had two RBIs.

Tweet from @PerfectGameUSA: Ryan Getz from the East Cobb Yankees is our Most Valuable Pitcher! #WaysToPlay pic.twitter.com/FPuowqP72q

This came after the Yankees went down 4-0 in the first two innings to the East Cobb Astros in the semifinal. In that game, the Yankees tied things up in the sixth and then added the go-ahead run in the seventh. After the Astros tied the game in the top of the ninth, the Yankees walked off in the bottom of the ninth to advance to the championship.

Ryan Getz, a right-handed pitcher from Marietta, was named the team's MVP after throwing seven innings of one-run baseball with a 0.714 WHIP in the tournament.

Cody Pace is contributor to MLB.com based in Atlanta.

This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

Play Ball in Houston a positive outlet for kids

MLB, Astros organization teach fundamentals to area youth
Special to MLB.com

HOUSTON -- Hundreds of children took advantage of a sunny and warm Saturday morning to learn how to play baseball. The Houston Astros Foundation and Astros Urban Youth Academy teamed up with USA Baseball, USA Softball and Major League Baseball to bring Play Ball to the Spring Spirit Baseball Complex.

The Play Ball initiative is an effort to encourage youth to participate in baseball or softball related activities, including formal leagues, events and casual forms of play. Play Ball is MLB's signature youth engagement activity during the professional and amateur baseball and softball calendar, including key dates throughout the MLB offseason, regular season, postseason and the World Series.

HOUSTON -- Hundreds of children took advantage of a sunny and warm Saturday morning to learn how to play baseball. The Houston Astros Foundation and Astros Urban Youth Academy teamed up with USA Baseball, USA Softball and Major League Baseball to bring Play Ball to the Spring Spirit Baseball Complex.

The Play Ball initiative is an effort to encourage youth to participate in baseball or softball related activities, including formal leagues, events and casual forms of play. Play Ball is MLB's signature youth engagement activity during the professional and amateur baseball and softball calendar, including key dates throughout the MLB offseason, regular season, postseason and the World Series.

This event celebrated the Astros and the American League Championship Series presented by Camping World with several different stations throughout the turf field, allowing more than 300 children to learn the fundamentals of baseball. For many, it was their first experience with the game. Not a single glove was worn on any hand. The kids used plastic bats to blast their first home runs over the right-field fence at one station. At another, children scored after running to all four bases. At the end of the day, each child received their own plastic bat and a ball to go along with it.

Twila Carter, executive director of community affairs and the Astros Foundation, said the event provides a place for children to get outside and learn how to play the game.

"It's a fun introduction to baseball for the kids with MLB's initiative," Carter said. "It's really about getting kids up, out and off the sofa. [We're] really just giving them some basic instruction in baseball."

Play Ball proved to be a healthy distraction from the life-altering events of the past month, since Hurricane Harvey brought destruction and devastation to the area. Many homes still have yet to have their trash picked up, as was evident in a nearby neighborhood. While the children may not fully understand what took place, they have witnessed tragedy from a natural disaster. Carter is happy baseball could provide a positive outlet from the life-changing tragedy.

"Young people may not have a full comprehension of the hurricane and its devastation, but they see their parents stressed. They see them worried and concerned about the housing situation," Carter said. "To provide a diversion for these young people, and to get out, have fun and be a kid just takes a little stress off them. The impact is not just on the adults. It's also on the kids. Can you imagine every time it rains? They're probably afraid it's going to be another hurricane."

Another positive distraction for the entire Gulf Coast is the successful season of the Houston Astros. The Astros are currently in the ALCS against the New York Yankees. Daryl Wade, the director of the Houston Youth Academy, sees the impact a successful professional baseball team has on youth and their interest in playing the game.

"We've had events when you ask a kid who their favorite player is, it may be a player from the Boston Red Sox or the Los Angeles Dodgers," Wade explained. "Now when you ask kids, it is a George Springer. It is a Jose Altuve. It is a Carlos Correa. That's important to us as the Astros organization that we have players that kids now look up to and want them to be their role models."

Many sports teach valuable life lessons including teamwork and how to compete. Wade gave specific examples of how baseball can help provide future success.

"Baseball teaches you all of life's lessons," Wade said. "It teaches you how to be successful. It teaches you when you're not successful, how to deal with it. A great baseball average is .300. When you have a .300 average in life, you're going to be successful. Of course, we want our kids to be above .500 in life. But to have that .300 average, it teaches you that you can also get through this. Trouble is only going to last for a short time, so we have to keep going and keep moving forward."

Cameron Brock is a contributor to MLB.com based in Houston.

This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

Houston Astros

D-backs aim to recapture offensive groove

Arizona just 1-for-8 with RISP entering Game 3 of NLDS
MLB.com

PHOENIX -- The D-backs have scored 10 runs against solid Dodgers pitching in the first two games of the National League Division Series presented by T-Mobile, yet that good news is obscured by the fact they enter tonight's game at Chase Field one loss from elimination.

Although the obvious problem has been starting pitching -- with Taijuan Walker and Robbie Ray giving up a combined eight runs on eight hits and six walks in 5 1/3 innings -- Arizona's offense is looking for ways to do just a little more.

PHOENIX -- The D-backs have scored 10 runs against solid Dodgers pitching in the first two games of the National League Division Series presented by T-Mobile, yet that good news is obscured by the fact they enter tonight's game at Chase Field one loss from elimination.

Although the obvious problem has been starting pitching -- with Taijuan Walker and Robbie Ray giving up a combined eight runs on eight hits and six walks in 5 1/3 innings -- Arizona's offense is looking for ways to do just a little more.

:: NLDS schedule and coverage ::

The output has been solid in games started by Dodgers ace Clayton Kershaw and lefty Rich Hill. Now the challenge is Yu Darvish, but the D-backs are confident.

"Get to Yu a little bit early in the game and take a little pressure off us," Jeff Mathis said Sunday. "But I'm happy with the way we grinded. We got behind and we battled back. That's something that we're definitely happy about."

But only so happy.

"Yeah, it's good that we've scored, but we're still sitting down 0-2," Paul Goldschmidt said. "It's better if we didn't score many but found a way to win. If we've got to win, 1-0, or win a high-scoring game, just do everything we can to win and keep playing."

• Lovullo: D-backs have 'bit more of story to tell'

The D-backs had little chance for an early lead against Kershaw in the opener. Walker gave up four runs in the bottom of the first. Yet, they climbed into the game with four solo homers, all off Kershaw.

Arizona took a 2-0 lead in Game 2 on Goldschmidt's two-run homer off Hill in the first, but the Dodgers simply wore Ray down and had a steady offensive output.

Video: LAD@ARI Gm3: Lamb on coming home for NLDS Game 3

But the D-backs are just 1-for-8 with runners in scoring position, with the only hit in that situation coming on Brandon Drury's three-run homer in the seventh on Saturday. And they're just 2-for-19 overall with two outs.

The key is spreading production throughout the lineup. J.D. Martinez is 4-for-8 (.500) with a homer in the series, and Ketel Marte is 3-for-8 with a homer. A.J. Pollock is 2-for-6 with two walks and a homer, and Goldschmidt's homer was his only hit in seven at-bats.

"Offensively, [we need to] continue to grind things out, score runs and expect to score runs," said D-backs manager Torey Lovullo. "We've done that. Against Clayton Kershaw we scored some runs, and then yesterday we battled and got right back in there.

"Maybe group things together, get big hits, execute with two outs and expect to get the job done. Those are themes that we've been following all year long."

Video: LAD@ARI Gm3: Lovullo on mindset heading into Game 3

The D-backs also hope to harness the magic of a loud crowd.

"If you're at home, you feel like you can thrive off that energy," said infielder Daniel Descalso.

Thomas Harding has been a reporter for MLB.com since 2002. Follow him on Twitter @harding_at_mlb and like his Facebook page.

This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

Arizona Diamondbacks

Youngsters come out for Play Ball in Portland

MLB initiative encourages kids to learn the game
MLB.com

PORTLAND, Ore. -- Mayor Ted Wheeler opened Saturday's Play Ball event by declaring Oct. 7 an annual Play Ball Day in the community. While Portland may not be home to a Major League team, the city is rich in baseball history and the 100-plus kids who came out to play ball at Walker Stadium proved that the appetite for the game has never wavered.

"What's great about this event is that I think it takes away some of the structure or barriers that maybe are invisible and says come play baseball, come have fun, come learn some baseball activities and games. But don't worry if you don't have the right gear, you're on a team, you're in the right league, just come out and play and have fun," said Nova Newcomer, Executive Director of Friends of Baseball.

PORTLAND, Ore. -- Mayor Ted Wheeler opened Saturday's Play Ball event by declaring Oct. 7 an annual Play Ball Day in the community. While Portland may not be home to a Major League team, the city is rich in baseball history and the 100-plus kids who came out to play ball at Walker Stadium proved that the appetite for the game has never wavered.

"What's great about this event is that I think it takes away some of the structure or barriers that maybe are invisible and says come play baseball, come have fun, come learn some baseball activities and games. But don't worry if you don't have the right gear, you're on a team, you're in the right league, just come out and play and have fun," said Nova Newcomer, Executive Director of Friends of Baseball.

The event, an extension of Major League Baseball's Play Ball initiative, was hosted by the league in partnership with Friends of Baseball, the United States Conference of Mayors, the city of Portland and the Portland Pickles, all encouraging kids to learn the game by playing it at a grassroots level.

"This is one of the most important things I think we can do to help our kids and encourage them to put their phones down, get away from the Nintendos, get outside and participate in a family activity," Wheeler said. "Something that can be a lifelong passion, learn how to work together as a team and just have a good time."

That lifelong passion Wheeler alluded to is no stranger to former Major Leaguer and Portland native, Brian Hunter, who came out to take part in the baserunning, agility and home run derby stations.

"There is no better sport than baseball," said Hunter. "This has been a tradition not only within the United States, but around the world as well so I just love to see Portland and the Northwest stepping up and supporting it."

While Hunter's first memories were playing the game in his backyard, he spoke of the mentors who introduced him to similar clinics and inevitably sparked his love for America's pastime. Today, national programs like Play Ball and local organizations like Friends of Baseball, based in Portland, aim to teach positive life lessons through baseball. Friends of Baseball's mission is to "enhance children's lives through baseball's power to teach" and is brought to life through baseball-inspired academic and physical after-school and summer programs throughout the year.

"Baseball we think has unique lessons that teach kids about failure in a safe way, it allows them to make a mistake and come back and learn, it allows them to understand how to support a teammate … we all have to do that later in life," explained Newcomer.

Wheeler credits his Little League team for giving him the chance to be a part of something bigger than himself, and says that the life lessons one learns is what makes sports so important.

"We all know that no matter where you go and what you do in life, you're going to have to have those team-building skills, you've got to think beyond your own self, and sports is the best way, in my opinion, to do that," said Wheeler.

Shannon Ford is a reporter for MLB.com. Follow her on Twitter @Shannon__Ford.

This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

Inspiring NJ teen wins Boys & Girls Clubs honor

Carlos Polanco named Youth of the Year, will participate in World Series, ASG events
MLB.com

Carlos Polanco has been named the 2017-18 Boys & Girls Clubs of America National Youth of the Year, a distinction that comes with special perks from Major League Baseball. Polanco will participate in pregame ceremonies at this year's World Series and at the 2018 All-Star Game presented by Mastercard in Washington, plus possible other MLB events over the next year.

Tom Brasuell, MLB's vice president of community affairs and a BGCA alum, was in Washington this week to present the six finalists with BGCA blue Louisville Slugger bats while attending the awards ceremony of MLB's official charity partner. All six finalists serve as role models for the four million youth served by BGCA across the U.S.

Carlos Polanco has been named the 2017-18 Boys & Girls Clubs of America National Youth of the Year, a distinction that comes with special perks from Major League Baseball. Polanco will participate in pregame ceremonies at this year's World Series and at the 2018 All-Star Game presented by Mastercard in Washington, plus possible other MLB events over the next year.

Tom Brasuell, MLB's vice president of community affairs and a BGCA alum, was in Washington this week to present the six finalists with BGCA blue Louisville Slugger bats while attending the awards ceremony of MLB's official charity partner. All six finalists serve as role models for the four million youth served by BGCA across the U.S.

"Major League Baseball congratulates Carlos on being named the 2017-2018 National Youth of the Year. His background as an exemplary student and active participant in issues he cares about makes him an ideal representative for this honor," Brasuell said. "We look forward to hosting Carlos at the World Series as part of one of our favorite Fall Classic traditions with our official charitable partner, Boys & Girls Clubs of America."

Video: WS2016 Gm1: Woods and Hargrove deliver game ball

Polanco, 18, represents the Boys & Girls Club of Clifton, N.J. He used to pick up his younger sister from summer camp there, not looking to become a BGCA member himself. But he joined after seeing what the organization offers, and soon he was helping out others. Over the course of two summers, Polanco volunteered more than 550 hours as a mentor to 6-year-old campers.

Polanco was 5 when he and his family moved from the Dominican Republic to the U.S. In the course of learning English as a first-grader, he started to realize the importance of education. Now he is the first in his family to pursue a secondary education, having just enrolled at Dartmouth, with a lofty goal of becoming a U.S. Supreme Court Justice.

He was a National Honor Society member who finished in the top 2 percent of his graduating class in high school. While there, he co-founded the Clifton Student Union -- run entirely by students for students. In this capacity, he addressed the lack of Advanced Placement classes and led a peaceful march of more than 350 students advocating for fair funding.

"My Club taught me that I can be whatever I want to be, to always dream big and go get it," Polanco said. "I am ready to represent our dreamers."

Orioles outfielder Adam Jones, a BGCA alumni from San Diego who has invested heavily in his local chapter in Baltimore, recently captured the sentiment of so many people across MLB who support the organization year-round, helping youths like Polanco thrive.

"All you need is a building, a safe place, nothing too fancy," Jones said. "Just a place to meet, people who care. It's what helped me get to where I am today. Because when you have someone who believes in you, that's when you have a chance to go places you never thought you could."

Visit MLBCommunity for more information on MLB's outreach efforts.

Mark Newman is enterprise editor of MLB.com and a baseball writer since 1990. Follow him on Twitter @Marathoner and read and join other baseball fans on his MLB.com/blogs hub.

This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

Granderson returns to Urban Youth Academy

Dodgers outfielder imparts wisdom to kids in second visit to facility
MLB.com

While playing for the Tigers in 2009, Curtis Granderson held a baseball clinic at the Major League Baseball Urban Youth Academy in Compton, Calif., which was then 3 years old. About 50 kids, wearing their own baseball clothes, turned out to work with the young outfielder that day.

Fast forward eight years and Granderson, fresh off celebrating clinching the 2017 National League West title with his new Dodgers teammates, returned to Compton, this time dressing more than 160 young players in shirts emblazoned with "Curtis Granderson's Grandkids," provided by the veteran's foundation.

While playing for the Tigers in 2009, Curtis Granderson held a baseball clinic at the Major League Baseball Urban Youth Academy in Compton, Calif., which was then 3 years old. About 50 kids, wearing their own baseball clothes, turned out to work with the young outfielder that day.

Fast forward eight years and Granderson, fresh off celebrating clinching the 2017 National League West title with his new Dodgers teammates, returned to Compton, this time dressing more than 160 young players in shirts emblazoned with "Curtis Granderson's Grandkids," provided by the veteran's foundation.

"I think I spoke to all the kids over there," Granderson said to Darrell Miller, Major League Baseball's vice president of youth and facility development, who was also at Granderson's first clinic.

"A much bigger turnout this time," replied Miller.

Tweet from @cgrand3: What better way to celebrate a @dodgers division title than w/over 150 #GrandKids at @mlbuya today in Compton! TY @DodgersFdn & @newbalance! pic.twitter.com/5zMeoXfeYD

For Granderson, the son of two educators, teaching baseball and the positive aspects of life comes naturally. The impact he has made on young people in his native Chicago, and in Detroit and New York compelled Major League Baseball to award Granderson with the 2016 Roberto Clemente Award for excellence in community service. He received the award at Game 4 of the World Series in Chicago last October.

"That was awesome," said Granderson. "Just to see the similarities between [Clemente's] parents and my parents and find the importance, in terms of what community means, not only to where you grew up, but the city that gives you a chance to make you who you are, playing this great game of baseball."

Granderson created the Grand Kids Foundation in 2007 to aid positive youth development through education, physical fitness and nutrition initiatives. To date, the foundation has hosted more than 1 million youth at Grand Kids camp/clinic programs across the country, provided more than 3 million meals as part of an annual food insecurity campaign (Grand Giving) and developed a youth academy at Curtis Granderson Stadium at the University of Illinois Chicago, for which the outfielder personally donated more than $5 million.

"Curtis is a one of kind, there is no one else like him," said Miller. "He has a heart for the kids and a vision of what he wants to accomplish in the community. It means a lot to these boys and girls to know there's somebody currently in the Major Leagues who has a heart like this and, for our kids, they really wanted to meet him. This is a totally different group of kids than were here eight years ago, so we have gone full circle with Curtis."

Tweet from @DodgersFdn: That face you make when you get paired up with your new bestie! 📸: @JonSooHoo #GrandKids #LADFgives #BiggerThanBaseball pic.twitter.com/weGqThmguR

On Saturday the kids were led through warmup drills, personally supervised by Granderson, and then groups were broken up by age and the groups moved to baseball-skill stations, manned by Academy coaches and Granderson, where the players worked on fundamentals.

"Academies like this one give opportunities for kids to play, have fun, know the importance of education, know the importance of being active and moving around," said Granderson. "That's what the Urban Youth Academy is trying their very best to do, and to be here now, as a Dodger, is very cool."

Ben Platt is a national correspondent for MLB.com.

This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

Los Angeles Dodgers, Curtis Granderson