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Martinez talks baseball with youth players

MLB.com

WASHINGTON -- Nationals manager Dave Martinez gained perspective from visiting a youth baseball league and fielding questions from children on Saturday as part of the Nationals' PLAY BALL Weekend.

"Some of the questions they asked were pretty interesting," Martinez said. "One kid says to me, 'How long did you play center field for in the Major Leagues?' I said about nine years. He like flipped out, 'Nine years! Nine years?' But nine years, he kept saying it. I'm like, 'OK.'"

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WASHINGTON -- Nationals manager Dave Martinez gained perspective from visiting a youth baseball league and fielding questions from children on Saturday as part of the Nationals' PLAY BALL Weekend.

"Some of the questions they asked were pretty interesting," Martinez said. "One kid says to me, 'How long did you play center field for in the Major Leagues?' I said about nine years. He like flipped out, 'Nine years! Nine years?' But nine years, he kept saying it. I'm like, 'OK.'"

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Another one of Martinez's favorite moments came when a kid was scared to ask him a question, so in a whisper the child asked who was the best player Martinez played with. Martinez answered Barry Bonds, his Giants teammate from 1993-94.

Martinez was one of the Nationals members to give back to youngsters during PLAY BALL Weekend, a league-wide effort by every MLB club and Minor League Baseball to engage young baseball and softball fans and commemorate the continued support of youth participation.

Throughout the weekend, Nationals players wore PLAY BALL T-shirts pregame for batting practice.

The Nationals provided two complimentary tickets to every player who finished the spring season in a league that participates in the Nationals Uniform Program. Leagues that qualified were the D.C. Little League, D.C. Parks and Recreation Rookie League, Virginia District 4 Little League, Virginia District 10 Little League and Virginia District 7 Cal Ripken Babe Ruth.

Fans 12 years old and younger also received pitch-grip training baseballs from the team as they exited Nationals Park following Washington's 5-3 loss to the Phillies on Saturday. One of the Nationals' youth baseball visits was cancelled Saturday because of rain.

Ryan Zimmerman was among a group of Nationals players who also visited eight youth baseball fields around the Washington area on Saturday to chat with children.

Kyle Melnick is a contributor to MLB.com based in Washington.

Washington Nationals

24 kids compete at Coors in Pitch, Hit and Run

Special to MLB.com

DENVER -- Hours before the Major League players arrived at the ball park to prepare for Sunday's rubber match between the Marlins and Rockies, two-dozen elite baseball players aged 7 to 14 showed up for an intense competition on the Major League field in the 2018 Colorado Rockies Team Championship, the third of four stages in the annual Pitch, Hit, and Run program.

Participants came from all over the Rocky Mountain West, including Colorado, Nebraska, Wyoming, South Dakota, Utah and Montana to compete at Coors Field for a spot in the National Finals in Washington. D.C., next month. They arrived with family members sporting supporting T-shirts boasting their allegiance to "Team Ethan," for example, wearing their pride for the lad from Laramie.

DENVER -- Hours before the Major League players arrived at the ball park to prepare for Sunday's rubber match between the Marlins and Rockies, two-dozen elite baseball players aged 7 to 14 showed up for an intense competition on the Major League field in the 2018 Colorado Rockies Team Championship, the third of four stages in the annual Pitch, Hit, and Run program.

Participants came from all over the Rocky Mountain West, including Colorado, Nebraska, Wyoming, South Dakota, Utah and Montana to compete at Coors Field for a spot in the National Finals in Washington. D.C., next month. They arrived with family members sporting supporting T-shirts boasting their allegiance to "Team Ethan," for example, wearing their pride for the lad from Laramie.

"Everybody that you saw out here today was a champion within their local community, whether it was a Boys & Girls Club, YMCA, their school, or Little League," said Kabir Faiz, account coordinator at Scott's MLB Pitch, Hit & Run. "They won there, and then they also won in the sectional within their local community."

The original pool of participants included approximately 650,000 youth baseball players from all over the country and a total of 720 compete at each of the 30 Major League ballparks in the Team Championships. A total of 24 players will proceed to the Finals at Nationals Park in D.C. during the Major League Baseball All-Star Week festivities.

"The competitors that we have out here today are the premiere youth athletes within baseball," Faiz said. "We have the best of the best, the elite of the elite that come out to this event. It's fun. It's a little nerve-wracking at first, being on the field, getting in front of their parents and their peers, but once they get settled in it's a great experience for all of them."

For an event that focuses on the fundamentals of the game, it is a high-stakes, high-intensity day of competition, beginning at 7:30 a.m. on a Sunday. After lining up outside the park and warming up on the outfield grass, the players proceed through the three components of competition.

They get six pitches to fill the strike zone, three swings off a tee to drive balls as far as they can as close to dead center field as possible, and one run from second to home to show their speed on the basepaths.

The intensity and focus on preparation is most evident as the players step into the big league batter's box, adjusting the tee to their liking, taking their practice swings, and, in many cases, taking a beat to remember to breath before taking their cut at a chance to hit the finals.

"I feel happy knowing there's an opportunity for me to go to the Nationals," Morgan Peterson of Grand Island, Neb., said. "I've done it a couple times, and it's fun to keep the tradition going."

A "couple times" is a bit of an understatement. Peterson was competing at Coors Field for the sixth time, so the thrill of stepping on a big league field didn't rattle her the way it might have during her rookie competition. A little too much adrenaline or nerves can lead to wild pitches or balls batted into the ground at home plate, and unlike the Major League players who'll take the field later in the afternoon, these competitors don't have the luxury of multiple innings to find the right touch on the mound or several at-bats to barrel a ball -- they have a handful of pitches and swings to seal their fate.

Peterson conquered Coors Field and took first place in the 13-14-year-old Softball Division. She'll wait one more week to see how her results stack up and learn if she can follow in her sister's footsteps and compete in the National Finals.

The 2018 season marks the 23rd year for the Pitch, Hit, and Run program, and the competition can boast a number of Major League success stories, including Eric Hosmer, who finished second in the National Finals held at Coors Field during the 1998 All-Star Week.

Results

7-8 Year Old Softball Division

1st place: Madison Shaw, Edgar, Nebraska

2nd place: Phebe Johnson, Strasburg, Colorado

3rd place: Kylan Bower, Cody, Wyoming

9-10 Year Old Softball Division

1st place: Camory Wedal, Bethune, Colorado

2nd place: Madi Olson, Byers, Colorado

3rd place: Abigayle Feyereisen, Spearfish, South Dakota

11-12 Year Old Softball Division

1st place: Jarlyn Kechter, Vona, Colorado

2nd place: Graecyn Graf, Strasburg, Colorado

3rd place: Rihan Rosario, Worland, Wyoming

13-14 Year Old Softball Division

1st place: Morgan Peterson, Grand Island, Nebraska

2nd place: Brooke Wright, Worland, Wyoming

3rd place: Alyssa Maestas, Fowler, Colorado

7-8 Year Old Baseball Division

1st place: Hawk Hunter, Bluffdale, Utah

2nd place: Porter Stender, Superior, Colorado

3rd place: Sam Heyborne, Grand Junction, Colorado

9-10 Year Old Baseball Division

1st place: Ethan Ambruster, Laramie, Wyoming

2nd place: Cohen Allred, Rocky Ford, Colorado

3rd place: Parker Shahan, Herriman, Utah

11-12 Year Old Baseball Division

1st place: Lucas Stone, Eaton, Colorado

2nd place: Gabriel Grandy, Castle Rock, Colorado

3rd place: Gentre Coulter, Baker, Montana

13-14 Year Old Baseball Division

1st place: Kaidon Feyereisen, Spearfish, South Dakota

2nd place: Kimball Tamala, Eagle Mountain, Utah

3rd place: Wyatt Walters, Strasburg, Colorado

Owen Perkins is a contributor to MLB.com based in Denver.

Mets host Pitch, Hit & Run event at Citi Field

MLB.com

NEW YORK -- Twenty-four participants in Scotts Pitch, Hit & Run competition were ready to go bright and early on Sunday morning at Citi Field. The kids' energy was at an all-time high for a good reason: They all wanted to earn a trip to Washington, D.C., to participate in All-Star Week in July.

"These kids have worked so hard to get to this level, and this is a big day for them," said Donovan Mitchell, director of player relations and community engagement for the Mets. "They are really excited. Major League Baseball and Scotts put together a great program. You never know where they are going to end up. They are putting everything into it, and it's a good event."

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NEW YORK -- Twenty-four participants in Scotts Pitch, Hit & Run competition were ready to go bright and early on Sunday morning at Citi Field. The kids' energy was at an all-time high for a good reason: They all wanted to earn a trip to Washington, D.C., to participate in All-Star Week in July.

"These kids have worked so hard to get to this level, and this is a big day for them," said Donovan Mitchell, director of player relations and community engagement for the Mets. "They are really excited. Major League Baseball and Scotts put together a great program. You never know where they are going to end up. They are putting everything into it, and it's a good event."

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By the time the competition ended, eight kids ended up in first place in their respective divisions. One division winner was Peter Popowich of Verona, N.J. He thought he was a long shot to win the Baseball Division for ages 13 and 14.

"There are so many people who have tried out for [this competition]," he said. "It's a great experience to be able to come out and play [at] Citi Field. It's a big, huge field. Getting to run the bases, throwing a ball at [the] Mets' stadium is really incredible."

Julia Telep, the first-place winner in the Softball Division for ages 11 and 12, didn't know what to expect when she entered the competition. She didn't think she did well when it came to hitting the softball.

"I've been practicing at home. We hit on the field [at home], and I hit it further than [I did at Citi Field]," she said.

The first-place winners are eligible to move on to the National Finals. The Top 3 winners from every age group in the division -- 24 kids in all -- will fly out to Washington, D.C., for All-Star Week, where they will also get to shag fly balls during the Home Run Derby. They will have a lot of other appearances to take part in, according to Kelly Kelly, a coordinator for Pitch Hit & Run.

"It would a dream come true to go to the All-Star Game," Popowich said. "I'm a big Bryce Harper fan. If I get to meet him at the All-Star Game, that would be amazing."

Results

Softball

Division 7-8
1. Mia Tyler (Monroe, Conn.)
2. Jamie Todaro (Scotch Plains, N.J.)
3. Ela Roberge (Enfield, Conn.)

Division 9-10
1. Angelina Tavella (Fairfield, Conn.)
2. Mia Farone (Cicero, N.Y.)
3. Jessica Shoenfelt (Hamilton, N.J.)

Division 11-12
1. Julia Telep (Monroe, Conn.)
2. Alexandra Popowich (Verona, N.J.)
3. Olivia Jackson (Kirkville, N.Y.)

Division 13-14
1. Abby Torgerson (Orchard Park, N.Y.)
2. Emily Reynolds (Somers, Conn.)
3. Chelsea Villar (Fairfield, Conn.)

Baseball

Division 7-8
1. Tate Kidlon (Slingerland, N.Y.)
2. Ryan Champagne (Middlefield, Conn.)
3. Jace McGee (Monroe, Conn.)

Division 9-10
1. Ryan Corey (Rochester, N.Y.)
2. Jacob Budarz (Manchester, Conn.)
3. Ryan O'Connell (Glenmont, N.Y.)

Division 11-12
1. Andrew Kidlon (Slingerland, N.Y.)
2. Luke Rizzi (Medford, N.Y.)
3. Jason Quardt (Leonardo, N.J.)

Division 13-14
1. Peter Popowich (Verona, N.J.)
2. Johnathan Smuda (Gowanda, N.Y.)
3. Alex Bugnacki (Newington, Conn.)

Bill Ladson has been a reporter for MLB.com since 2002. He covered the Nationals/Expos from 2002-2016. Follow him on Twitter and Facebook.

New York Mets

Red Sox host Pitch, Hit and Run championships

Special to MLB.com

BOSTON -- Before the Mariners and Red Sox continued their three-game series on Saturday night, Fenway Park played host to the team championships of the Scotts Pitch, Hit and Run competition.

More than 650,000 children from ages 7 to 14 participated nationally in the competition, with Saturday's competition at Fenway featuring 12 baseball and 12 softball qualifiers from Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Vermont, New Hampshire and Maine.

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BOSTON -- Before the Mariners and Red Sox continued their three-game series on Saturday night, Fenway Park played host to the team championships of the Scotts Pitch, Hit and Run competition.

More than 650,000 children from ages 7 to 14 participated nationally in the competition, with Saturday's competition at Fenway featuring 12 baseball and 12 softball qualifiers from Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Vermont, New Hampshire and Maine.

View Full Game Coverage

In the pitching portion of the competition, competitors were tested on their accuracy by throwing six pitches at a designated strike-zone target from a distance determined by sport and age.

Contestants then moved to the hitting portion of the program, where they batted three balls off of a tee, with scoring determined by the distance and accuracy.

Lastly, contestants were timed in the running portion of the competition over a distance of 120 feet, starting from second base, rounding third and finishing at home.

Saturday's participants earned the honor of participating at Fenway Park by winning competitions in their local areas and then a sectional competition.

The winners of each division were determined by the total score of the three events, with those tallies being measured against competitors from the 29 other teams who hosted the event, with the top three overall scorers in each division earning a trip to the National Finals during the 2018 MLB All-Star Weekend in Washington, D.C.

Warwick, R.I., had a trio of divisional winners on the day, including Ken George (7- and 8-year-old baseball), Matt Wellington (9- and 10-year-old baseball) and Dylan Roberts (11- and 12-year-old baseball).

Isabella Sousa (7- and 8-year-old softball) of Cranston, and Jacob Cookinham (13- and 14-year-old baseball) of Tiverton gave Rhode Island two additional winners.

Massachusetts natives Samantha Barton (9- and 10-year-old softball) of Reading, Catherine Seay (11- and 12-year-old softball) of Marlborough and Eliana Raposo (13- and 14-year-old softball) of Dighton rounded out the list of winners, who were all honored on the field in a pregame ceremony before Saturday night's game.

Craig Forde is a contributor to MLB.com based in Boston.

Boston Red Sox

MLB reps volunteer at NYC Youth Pride event

MLB.com

NEW YORK -- With anticipation building for Major League Baseball's first appearance in the New York City Pride March on Sunday, some of the organization's employees decided to start the celebrations a day early by volunteering at the Youth Pride event Saturday afternoon.

For the second consecutive year, 14th Street Park in downtown Manhattan served as a place for thousands of LGBTQIA+ and ally teens to celebrate NYC Pride with their friends. In 2017, the Youth Pride event had more than 2,000 guests in attendance. This year, NYC Pride communications manager Eboni Munn was thrilled to see about 6,000 names registered to visit Saturday's celebration.

NEW YORK -- With anticipation building for Major League Baseball's first appearance in the New York City Pride March on Sunday, some of the organization's employees decided to start the celebrations a day early by volunteering at the Youth Pride event Saturday afternoon.

For the second consecutive year, 14th Street Park in downtown Manhattan served as a place for thousands of LGBTQIA+ and ally teens to celebrate NYC Pride with their friends. In 2017, the Youth Pride event had more than 2,000 guests in attendance. This year, NYC Pride communications manager Eboni Munn was thrilled to see about 6,000 names registered to visit Saturday's celebration.

"Oh my gosh, I feel amazing," Munn said. "To see so many kids out here, I didn't have this growing up and I know the board didn't either, so it's amazing."

As volunteers -- including 10 from Major League Baseball -- assisted in running activities, passing out bandanas and helping the event run as smoothly as possible, the participants had many options for how they wanted to celebrate Pride. Those in attendance could create their own flags, post words of encouragement on lockers that were on display, purchase clothing and accessories at the Pride Shop or have makeup artists put colorful makeup on their eyes and faces.

Major League Baseball doubled its number of volunteers at the Youth Pride event after having five in the event's inaugural year, including Ernesto Hernandez, manager of international baseball investigations and compliance, who volunteered at the event in both 2017 and '18.

"As an LGBT person, it's important for me to give back to the community," Hernandez said. "I wish there was something like this growing up to show me that I'm welcome, that I belong. So I just want to pay it forward and give it to the next generation, so that's why it's important for me to be a part of it."

Although many of the volunteers have personal ties to the cause, MLB's crew also wanted to spend time at Youth Pride on Saturday to get out a message for the organization they are representing.

"This is the next generation, so we want to show them that they have a place in the sports community and that they have a place in Major League Baseball," Hernandez said. "We are the sport of Jackie Robinson, so inclusion is in our DNA. We want to show that LGBT Youth are welcome in our game."

"Major League Baseball is definitely a big inspiration to us," Munn said. "It's amazing to have them here."

Billy Bean, a former Major Leaguer who has served as MLB's first Ambassador for Inclusion since 2014, wanted to make sure that his organization was represented throughout NYC Pride weekend. After spending time in Alaska for the 24 hours of Play Ball events during summer solstice, Bean landed back in New York around 1 a.m. on Saturday before participating in the 37th annual Pride Run in Central Park just a few hours later. Then, Bean made his way over to Youth Pride to celebrate with the next generation.

"There's such a connection between the youth of the city and how defiantly strong these kids are under some incredibly difficult circumstances," Bean said. "The one amazing fact about LGBT is we are every race, every gender, every language, every size, shape, every culture, so we are like the centerpiece of all the diversity spectrum in a way."

The Youth Pride event gave the Major League Baseball volunteers just a taste of what Sunday's celebrations will be like with over 150 MLB employees signed up to participate in the organization's first appearance in New York City's 49th annual Pride March.

"I just feel like we found a way to reach into pockets that don't normally have baseball on their radar, and the first way to do that is to let people feel a connection to baseball or the Yankees or the Mets or a player or whatever," Bean said. "I pinch myself a little bit because we've come a long way, but all you got to do is look in the rear-view mirror a little bit and you know we've got a lot of work to do still. But I'm really proud of baseball collectively."

Mandy Bell is a reporter for MLB.com based in New York.

Angels host 250 kids at PLAY Campaign event

MLB.com

ANAHEIM -- Two hundred and fifty boys and girls, ranging from 8-18 years old, took the field at Angel Stadium on Saturday morning as part of the 2018 National PLAY Campaign, an initiative meant to promote the importance of children living a healthy and active lifestyle.

The participants rotated between stations to practice a wide range of baseball skills -- including hitting, catching and pitching -- and received tips from Angels right-handers Justin Anderson and Alex Meyer, as well as infielder David Fletcher. Catching and information coach Steve Soliz, strength and conditioning coach Lee Fiocchi and team trainers Adam Nevala and Eric Munson were also among the Angels personnel on hand for the event.

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ANAHEIM -- Two hundred and fifty boys and girls, ranging from 8-18 years old, took the field at Angel Stadium on Saturday morning as part of the 2018 National PLAY Campaign, an initiative meant to promote the importance of children living a healthy and active lifestyle.

The participants rotated between stations to practice a wide range of baseball skills -- including hitting, catching and pitching -- and received tips from Angels right-handers Justin Anderson and Alex Meyer, as well as infielder David Fletcher. Catching and information coach Steve Soliz, strength and conditioning coach Lee Fiocchi and team trainers Adam Nevala and Eric Munson were also among the Angels personnel on hand for the event.

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"It's a lot of fun to come out here and work with the kids, teach them a few things, let them ask you whatever questions they have," Anderson said. "I think it's good for them to just be able to come out to a big league field and work with us. They just look at us as superstars. Whether they know you or not, it's really cool."

The PLAY (Promoting a Lifetime of Activity for Youth) campaign was founded in 2004 by the Professional Baseball Athletic Trainers Society (PBATS) to raise awareness about children's health issues and the obesity epidemic in the United States.

PLAY -- which is supported by the Ruderman Family Foundation, Major League Baseball Charities, the Taylor Hooton Foundation and the Henry Schein Cares Foundation -- has staged more than 300 events inside all 30 MLB ballparks since its inception. The program has helped expose thousands of young Americans to baseball, while also educating them about the importance of leading healthy and active lives.

"I think it's great," Meyer said. "For some kids that don't have the opportunity to maybe even play baseball, the fact that they get to do something here -- be an Angel for a day or whatever you want to call it -- it's something that you can't put a price on."

Maria Guardado covers the Angels for MLB.com. Follow her on Twitter and Facebook.

Los Angeles Angels

Johnson in attendance at Marlins Play Ball event

Former Marlins player 'thankful' to return to site where son played T-ball
MLB.com

PEMBROKE PINES, Fla. -- On the same fields Charles Johnson's son once played, the former All-Star catcher took part in assisting children during a Play Ball initiative on Friday morning.

Johnson met with and instructed dozens of boys and girls at Flamingo Park in the fourth Play Ball event conducted by the Marlins this week.

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PEMBROKE PINES, Fla. -- On the same fields Charles Johnson's son once played, the former All-Star catcher took part in assisting children during a Play Ball initiative on Friday morning.

Johnson met with and instructed dozens of boys and girls at Flamingo Park in the fourth Play Ball event conducted by the Marlins this week.

View Full Game Coverage

"It's awesome for these young kids to come out and get outside and run bases, hit baseballs and throw," Johnson said. "That's what the Play Ball initiative is all about. Getting young kids out, introducing them to baseball. Getting young girls out. They may be the new generation of softball girls. These are the new generation of baseball kids. It's all about getting them out and introducing them to the game. I really love this initiative, Play Ball."

Major League Baseball, Minor League Baseball and the United States Conference of Mayors are spending the summer hosting youth-focused baseball and softball events.

Johnson can relate to many of the kids he mingled with on Friday. He grew up in Fort Pierce, Fla., and played at the University of Miami before being drafted by the Marlins. He once played on similar fields in Florida, and he went on to become an All-Star catcher and World Series champion in 1997 with the Marlins.

Earlier in the week, the Marlins conducted similar events in Miami-Dade County, with former players Placido Polanco, Alfredo Amezaga and Antonio Alfonseca taking part.

On Friday, Johnson and Marlins personnel, including mascot Billy the Marlin, interacted with youth players on a steamy South Florida day.

"This place is dear to my heart," said Johnson, whose son first played T-ball at Flamingo Park. "I'm just very thankful and happy to come back here and celebrate Play Ball today."

Also on hand was Pembroke Pines mayor Frank Ortis.

"We tell our kids in Pines and every other city, educate as far as you can," Ortis said. "Make sure you do all of your education, but you have to recreate."

At the fields, there was music, dancing and baseball. Johnson offered instruction on hitting and baserunning. He posed for plenty of pictures, and he signed autographs.

"It's huge," Ortis said of having a former big leaguer at the complex. "He's an All-Star."

The mayor also tested his arm, throwing off the mound.

"We love the arts in our city," Ortis said. "We love our ballparks. Get out and have fun, because that's what the whole spectrum is -- hard work and have fun."

Joe Frisaro has covered the Marlins for MLB.com since 2002. Follow him on Twitter @JoeFrisaro and listen to his podcast.

Miami Marlins

Mayors across US, PR commit to Play Ball

MLB.com

For the first time since Play Ball's 2015 inauguration, more than 300 mayors from all 50 states and Puerto Rico have pledged their support to host youth-focused baseball and softball events in their communities through August.

Major League Baseball, Minor League Baseball and the United States Conference of Mayors expect a similar turnout from last year's success, when more than 250 mayors hosted over 35,000 kids in Play Ball events.

For the first time since Play Ball's 2015 inauguration, more than 300 mayors from all 50 states and Puerto Rico have pledged their support to host youth-focused baseball and softball events in their communities through August.

Major League Baseball, Minor League Baseball and the United States Conference of Mayors expect a similar turnout from last year's success, when more than 250 mayors hosted over 35,000 kids in Play Ball events.

In its third year, Play Ball Summer encourages mayors across the U.S. and Puerto Rico to organize community-based events that engage families, citizens and city departments to participate in baseball and softball activities focused on having fun while playing the sport.

"Kids want to play. Kids want to play ball," said Tom Brasuell, vice president of community affairs for MLB. "They want to play all kinds of sports, they want to be active. Over the last few years as kids have gotten kind of sedentary, in couches and seats playing video games, they see the adults play baseball. I see lots of kids who are clamoring to play, so we are now giving them the opportunity to play through the Play Ball efforts across the country."

Boys & Girls Clubs of America, the official charity of Major League Baseball, will support the initiative by seeking opportunities for their 1,400 organizations -- representing more than four million youth and 4,300 local clubs -- to take part in Play Ball Summer. Local Boys & Girls Clubs will collaborate or co-host events with mayors.

"Boys & Girls Club is a key partner for us, because pretty much every Boys & Girls Club has a gym, and you can play with a plastic ball and bat in any gym, and that's kind of the entry level for almost anybody who started playing ball," Brasuell said. "And once they start playing, they love it. I see it all the time."

The Play Ball initiative emphasizes the informal aspects of children playing ball any way they can, including Wiffle ball, T-ball or a game of catch. The effort does not necessarily include a full nine innings or umpires. It highlights community-based engagement while creating an everlasting love for the game.

"There's so many more things for kids to do nowadays," said former MLB pitcher Keith Foulke. "The video games and computers and online and all this other stuff. A lot of that stuff has a place in life, but when it comes to athletics, baseball is such a pure sport that once they understand it and they get the fundamentals and they get the handle on it, it's something you can take with you for a lifetime. As a player, as a fan, whatever it is, it can be passed down from generation to generation."

For the second straight year, baseball and softball combined to rank as the most participated team sports in the U.S. in 2017 with 25.1 million participants, according to the annual Topline Participation Report produced by the Sports & Fitness Industry Association. Last year, casual participation in baseball rose by 12.9 percent with overall participation seeing a 6 percent increase, the latter of which is the largest increase of all major team sports. Over the last three years, baseball has seen a 49.1 percent growth in casual participation, which is in direct correlation to the launch of the Play Ball initiative.

"We're just very proud that we've got every state, Puerto Rico and the District of Columbia signed up to do Play Ball events," Brasuell said. "We couldn't do it without these mayors of course, and certainly this year adding Boys & Girls Club as our official charity to support the efforts was a no-brainer."

Deesha Thosar is a reporter for MLB.com based in New York City. Follow her on Twitter at @DeeshaThosar.

Fun in the sun: 24 hours of baseball in Alaska

Summer solstice brings 113th Midnight Sun Game to Fairbanks
MLB.com

Major League Baseball celebrated the 113th Midnight Sun Game by organizing an unprecedented 24 hours of Play Ball events around this year's game in Fairbanks, Alaska.

Throughout the 24-hour period of daylight during summer solstice, MLB and its partners -- the American Legion, PONY Baseball and Softball, USA Baseball and USA Softball -- hosted a number of baseball and softball activities for both adults and kids.

Major League Baseball celebrated the 113th Midnight Sun Game by organizing an unprecedented 24 hours of Play Ball events around this year's game in Fairbanks, Alaska.

Throughout the 24-hour period of daylight during summer solstice, MLB and its partners -- the American Legion, PONY Baseball and Softball, USA Baseball and USA Softball -- hosted a number of baseball and softball activities for both adults and kids.

Video: Play Ball joins Midnight Sun Game celebration

During the "Open Session" Play Ball events, approximately 600 youth players, ages 6 to 12, ran through informal baseball and softball stations. The day's other activities included games featuring baseball and softball organizations -- including the Armed Forces Softball League, American Legion, Reviving Baseball in Inner Cities (RBI) and USA Baseball and USA Softball -- which culminated with the Midnight Sun Game.

Video: Lohrke pleased to have Midnight Sun Game for city

The main event was between collegiate summer baseball teams, the Alaska Goldpanners and the Orange County Surf at Fairbanks' Growden Park. It began at 10 p.m. local time and did not use any artificial light. The Midnight Sun Game was first played in 1906 and has been hosted annually by the Goldpanners since 1960, their first year of competition.

Video: Bean discusses 24 Hours of Play Ball in Alaska

Billy Bean, a former big leaguer and MLB's vice president and special assistant to the Commissioner, was in attendance. Bean was named the Goldpanners' Most Valuable Player in 1985.

Tweet from @PlayBall: The finishing touch to 24 hours of #PlayBall?The @RealGoldpanners' Midnight Sun Game. pic.twitter.com/AAnkMIwKgB

Here's a recap from this one-of-a-kind event:

Fairbanks, June 21 -- 11 p.m.
For years, baseball fans from all over the world have gathered to watch the collegiate summer baseball team, the Alaska Goldpanners, play in the Midnight Sun Game. The game, which began at 10 p.m. Alaska time, did not use any artificial light, but it was lit instead by the summer solstice.

Video: Matherly discusses Midnight Sun Game, its location

Fairbanks, June 21 -- 9:30 p.m.
During the Midnight Sun Game pregame ceremonies, Jim Matherly, mayor of Fairbanks, and Karl Kassel, mayor of Fairbanks North Star Borough, adorn the Play Ball baseball with the Alaska state stamp. Play Ball has traveled to 25 (half!) of the United States!

Video: Mayors adorn the Play Ball baseball with Alaska Stamp

Fairbanks, June 21 -- 8 p.m.
Gates open at Growden Park for the Midnight Sun Game; enter Marc Christensen, Larry Bingham, Michael Cronk -- three retired baseball fans from San Francisco touring the country one ballpark at a time. Since beginning their quest in 2010, they've visited all 30 big league parks and 82 Minor League parks.

Video: MLB celebrates summer solstice in Fairbanks, AK

This trip began in Seattle before heading to Anchorage and then Fairbanks for the Midnight Sun Game. Growdin is the fifth ballpark of their visit to Alaska. Missing from their crew on this trip is Gary Bingham, brother of Larry.

Fairbanks, June 21 -- 2:30 p.m.
Play Ball is all about bringing the game to places it hasn't thrived traditionally, or perhaps in a long time. While you may not think of Alaska when you think baseball, the game is alive and well in America's north-most state. More than 300 kids came out for a Play Ball doubleheader event ahead of the Midnight Sun Game.

Fairbanks, June 21 -- 9 a.m
Based here in Alaska, these men and women serve our country in the Air Force and Army. Today, we salute them as they take the diamond.

Fairbanks, June 21 -- 8 a.m.
Little League is serious business up in Alaska. With limited months to play the game outside, two teams from the Anchorage Boys & Girls Club made the eight-hour bus trek up to Fairbanks to play with local PONY and RBI teams to celebrate a full day of sunlight. That's Fairbanks in red, with Anchorage in blue.

 

Fairbanks, June 21 -- 1:00 a.m.
How's this for a baseball sky at one o'clock in the morning?

Fairbanks, June 21 -- 12:01 a.m.
The first of many pitches on the day is thrown as American Legion Post 30 faces American Legion Post 11 in Game 1 of 24 Hours of Play Ball.

Video: Riccobono excited for 24 Hours of Play Ball in Alaska

Fairbanks, June 20 -- 11:56 p.m.
Bean, Rick Riccobono (chief development officer, USA Baseball) and David James (vice president, baseball and softball development, Major League Baseball) throw out the first pitch to begin the 24 hours of Play Ball in Fairbanks, Alaska in celebration of the summer solstice.

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

A's host Pitch, Hit & Run event at the Coliseum

MLB.com

OAKLAND -- The A's hosted the Team Championship round of the Scotts Pitch, Hit & Run competition on Sunday at Oakland Coliseum, with 24 kids ages 7-14 competing in their age groups.

The participants threw at a strike-zone target, hit balls off a tee at home plate and ran from second base to home in the competition.

OAKLAND -- The A's hosted the Team Championship round of the Scotts Pitch, Hit & Run competition on Sunday at Oakland Coliseum, with 24 kids ages 7-14 competing in their age groups.

The participants threw at a strike-zone target, hit balls off a tee at home plate and ran from second base to home in the competition.

In addition to being recognized during a pregame ceremony before the A's game with the Angels, the winners will be ranked nationally -- with the top participants in each age group advancing to the Scotts MLB Pitch, Hit & Run National Finals during MLB All-Star Week.

Kabir Faiz, an account manager for MLB Pitch, Hit & Run who helped run the event, said the highlight for him was the chance for kids to experience playing on a big league field.

"Being able to step on a Major League field -- competing on a field that some of their heroes, some of their favorite players get to compete on -- it's a great reward for them," Faiz said. "It's amazing, and they're all smiles. It's an awesome experience for all the families alike, so it's great."

The participants on Sunday each won at their local and sectional competitions -- with 650,000 kids in the country competing every year.

"These are the elite of the elite that make it to this level," Faiz said.

In its 22nd year, the program is free for all hosts and participants and is part of the Play Ball initiative between Major League Baseball and USA Baseball that seeks to promote youth participation in baseball activities.

Results

7/8 Softball Division
1. Logan Paredes (Rancho Cordova, Calif.)
2. Emmelyn Goodpasture (Wilton, Calif.)
3. Addison Rizzio (Marysville, Calif.)

9/10 Softball Division
1. Sophia O Quelly (Woodland, Calif.)
2. Kendall Bridgeford (Shasta Lake, Calif.)
3. Jaelee Hammes (Sun Valley, Nev.)

11/12 Softball Division
1. Aila Cordell (Gold River, Calif.)
2. Ava Goodpasture (Wilton, Calif.)
3. Lilly Snider (Marysville, Calif.)

13/14 Softball Division
1. Emily McCalla (Galt, Calif.)
2. Azaria Sanchez (Fresno, Calif.)
3. Lydia Rigby (Sun Valley, Nev.)

7/8 Baseball Division
1. Andres Reyna (Merced, Calif.)
2. Zach Clifford (Rocklin, Calif.)
3. Braden McCormack (Marina, Calif.)

9/10 Baseball Division
1. Jayden Wong (Rancho Cordova, Calif.)
2. Aidan Cruz (Sun Valley, Nev.)
3. Brodie Ogden (McArthur, Calif.)

11/12 Baseball Division
1. Matthew Lewis (Elverta, Calif.)
2. Kaden Sackett (Rancho Cordova, Calif.)
3. Weston Deboer (Reno, Nev.)

13/14 Baseball Division
1. Thomas Meyer III (Rio Linda, Calif.)
2. Daniel Lewis (Rocklin, Calif.)
3. Wesley Simpson (Carson City, Nev.)

Eric He is a reporter for MLB.com based in Oakland.

Oakland Athletics

PNC Park hosts 23 Pitch, Hit & Run participants

MLB.com

PITTSBURGH -- Gage Gillott is very familiar with the Scotts Pitch, Hit & Run event. After two second-place finishes in the Team Championship round at PNC Park in prior years, last year Gillott qualified as a national finalist in the 13/14 age group and was able to take part in the final event at Marlins Park in Miami during MLB All-Star Week.

One year later, the 14-year-old returned to PNC Park on Saturday morning to once again compete in the Team Championship round alongside 22 other baseball and softball participants from the Pennsylvania and West Virginia areas.

View Full Game Coverage

PITTSBURGH -- Gage Gillott is very familiar with the Scotts Pitch, Hit & Run event. After two second-place finishes in the Team Championship round at PNC Park in prior years, last year Gillott qualified as a national finalist in the 13/14 age group and was able to take part in the final event at Marlins Park in Miami during MLB All-Star Week.

One year later, the 14-year-old returned to PNC Park on Saturday morning to once again compete in the Team Championship round alongside 22 other baseball and softball participants from the Pennsylvania and West Virginia areas.

View Full Game Coverage

Gillott has now participated in the event six times. When asked if his ample experience eased any of the nerves of competing, Gillott said it did, but "it's still kind of nerve-wracking."

The Pitch, Hit & Run tournament, which is now in its 22nd year, encourages baseball and softball players ages 7-14 to showcase their skills as part of MLB's Play Ball initiative. As a whole, the competition consists of four levels: Local, Sectional, Team and National.

The 23 participants, clad in green Scotts Pitch, Hit & Run shirts, began the day testing their pitching skills by throwing at a designated "Strike Zone" from either 35 feet (softball division) or 45 feet (baseball division). Afterward, they proceeded to the hit portion of the competition -- which involved hitting balls as far as possible off a tee, while staying within close proximity to a measuring tape that went from home plate to center field. Fianlly, the participants were timed running from second base to home plate -- a total distance of 120 feet.

"It's a great thing put on by MLB," Gillott said. "It's fun, enjoyable and a great opportunity for kids to come out and do it."

Throughout June, every Major League team will host its respective Team Championship. The Top 3 scorers in each age division out of all 30 Team Championships will advance to the National Finals during MLB All-Star Week at Nationals Park in Washington D.C. The national finalists will be announced on July 2 on MLB Network.

The eight first-place finishers from the Team Championship were recognized prior to the Pirates' game against the Reds on Saturday.

Results:

7/8 Softball Division:

1st - Rylie Armentrout (Cabins, W.Va.)

2nd - Katelyn Dubee (Gibsonia, Pa.)

3rd - Addilyn Lehman (Millerton, Pa.)

9/10 Softball Division:

1st - Brooke Wilcox (Covington, Pa.)

2nd - Gia Gillott (Connellsville, Pa.)

11/12 Softball Division:

1st - Alana Stuart (Warren, Pa.)

2nd - Melia Mitskavich (DuBois, Pa.)

3rd - Giavonna Minton (Glenshaw, Pa.)

13/14 Softball Division:

1st - Sadie Bowers (Waterford, Pa.)

2nd - Taryn Stewart (Petersburg, Pa.)

3rd - Makela Bevans (Connellsville, Pa.)

7/8 Baseball Division:

1st - Levi Czar (Northern Cambria, Pa.)

2nd - Hunter White (Washington, Pa.)

3rd - Luke Bowers (Waterford, Pa.)

9/10 Baseball Division:

1st - Ben Yeckel (Glenshaw, Pa.)

2nd - Parker Shutty (Northern Cambria, Pa.)

3rd - Ty Sperringer (Colliers, W.Va.)

11/12 Baseball Division:

1st - Brighton Anderson (Meadville, Pa.)

2nd - Evan Weiwiora (Northern Cambria, Pa.)

3rd - Elijah Kuykendall (Keyser, W.Va.)

13/14 Baseball Division:

1st - Gage Gillott (Connellsville, Pa.)

2nd - Ted Shillito (Grove City, Pa.)

3rd - Tanner Trybus (St. Benedict, Pa.)

Mason Wittner is a reporter for MLB.com based in Pittsburgh.

Pittsburgh Pirates

For Midnight Sun Game, 24 hours of Play Ball

MLB announces celebratory activities leading up to main event in Fairbanks
MLB.com

Major League Baseball is celebrating the 113th Midnight Sun Game on June 21 by organizing an unprecedented 24 hours of Play Ball events around this year's game in Fairbanks, Alaska.

Throughout the 24-hour period of daylight during summer solstice, MLB and its partners -- the American Legion, PONY Baseball and Softball, USA Baseball and USA Softball -- are hosting a number of baseball and softball activities for both adults and kids.

Major League Baseball is celebrating the 113th Midnight Sun Game on June 21 by organizing an unprecedented 24 hours of Play Ball events around this year's game in Fairbanks, Alaska.

Throughout the 24-hour period of daylight during summer solstice, MLB and its partners -- the American Legion, PONY Baseball and Softball, USA Baseball and USA Softball -- are hosting a number of baseball and softball activities for both adults and kids.

During the "Open Session" Play Ball events, approximately 600 youth players, ages 6 to 12, will run through informal baseball and softball stations. Each participant will receive a bat and ball set, as well as Play Ball T-shirts and wristbands. Registration for the open sessions is available at www.PlayBall.org/events.

The day's other activities include games featuring baseball and softball organizations -- including the Armed Forces Softball League, American Legion, Reviving Baseball in Inner Cities (RBI) and USA Baseball and USA Softball -- which culminates with the Midnight Sun Game.

The main event is between collegiate summer baseball teams, the Alaska Goldpanners and the Orange County Surf at Fairbanks' Growden Park. It's scheduled to begin at 10 p.m. local time and does not use any artificial light. The Midnight Sun Game was first played in 1906 and has been hosted annually by the Goldpanners since 1960, their first year of competition.

Billy Bean, a former big leaguer and MLB's vice president for social responsibility and special assistant to the Commissioner, will be in attendance. Bean was named the Goldpanners' Most Valuable Player in 1985.

Other special guests include Fairbanks Mayor Jim Matherly, USA Baseball's chief development officer Rick Riccobono, Goldpanners general manager John Lohrke, USA Softball's executive director Craig Cress, Pony Baseball and Softball president Abe Key, MLB's vice president for baseball and softball development David James, Fairbanks North Star Borough Mayor Karl Kassel and North Pole Mayor Bryce Ward.

Chad Thornburg is a reporter for MLB.com based in Los Angeles.

Reds Community Fund hosts Signing Day event

Cincinnati Reds

On June 6, the Reds Community Fund hosted its second annual Signing Day event for high school seniors at the Reds Hall of Fame Theater at Great American Ball Park.

The ceremony honored 14 local high school student-athletes who have trained at P&G Cincinnati Reds Youth Academy and played for the Reds RBI (Reviving Baseball in Inner Cities) baseball and softball teams.

On June 6, the Reds Community Fund hosted its second annual Signing Day event for high school seniors at the Reds Hall of Fame Theater at Great American Ball Park.

The ceremony honored 14 local high school student-athletes who have trained at P&G Cincinnati Reds Youth Academy and played for the Reds RBI (Reviving Baseball in Inner Cities) baseball and softball teams.

This select group has signed letters of intent to play baseball or softball at the college level:

Softball
Hallie Crawford, Muskingum College (Lakota East)
Mackenzie Meyer, Cincinnati Christian University (Ross)
Haley Grau, Capital University (Ross)
Alyssa Dixon, University of the Cumberlands (Highlands KY)
Kylie Hagl, Miami University Hamilton (Colerain)
Mikala Duncan-Wolf, Wilmington College (Lebanon)
Bethany Kolbinsky, Miami University Hamilton (Colerain)           

Baseball
Justin Hilton, Kentucky Christian University (Princeton)
Brian Zix, Urbana University (Moeller)
Benjamin Sharp, Urbana University (Moeller)
Grant Lohmeier, Union College (Princeton)
Lawrence Hines, Wright State University -- Lake (Colerain)
Kyandrey Davis, Wright State University -- Lake (Withrow)
Justin Donovan, Urbana University (Elder)

Two of the seniors, Julie Kramer and Justin Hilton, each received $2,500 college scholarships from the Reds Community Fund.

Hilton reflected on the significance of realizing his goal to play baseball in college.

"Never to give up on my dreams and always pursue my dreams," said Hilton, who will play for Kentucky Christian University. "I wanted to become a college baseball player or professional baseball player, and I put in the work and all the hard work paid off. And now I am here today signing to play college baseball. Not a lot of kids my age get to play baseball or play any kind of sport at the next level. I'm just thankful to God and everyone else who helped me along the way."

Reds pitcher Michael Lorenzen was a special guest and had words of encouragement for the seniors.

"You guys are going to go through tons of ups and tons of downs," said Lorenzen, who played baseball at Cal State Fullerton before being drafted by the Reds in 2013. "Trying to manage time in college with doing sports and going to school, it's tough. But the most important thing and the one thing you can control is your perspective. You can always look at the negative side of things and dwell on those or there's always a flip side, a positive perspective in any situation you come to. My advice to you is there's always two sides of the coin. Find the right perspective in how you approach everything that you do."

Signing Day took place the same week as the 2018 MLB Draft, and Reds president of baseball operations Dick Williams stopped by to recognize the signees.

"The impact that the Urban Youth Academy, the RBI Program and the Community Fund and what they're doing for youth baseball in this entire region are so important, because it's keeping kids engaged and it's keeping our numbers up," said Williams. "And you just never know where the next star's going to come from. But watching that Draft board the last couple days and the number of names that came from this region reminded me what a strong baseball group we really have here."

Michael Anderson is the public relations manager for the Cincinnati Reds.

Cincinnati Reds

Pinder visits school for special-needs kids

A's utility player takes over tradition from ex-teammate Vogt
MLB.com

DUBLIN, Calif. -- Kids at the School of Imagination received a special guest on Wednesday morning, when A's utility player Chad Pinder and his fiancee, Taylor, spent time at the full-inclusion preschool serving special-needs children.

Pinder also will be signing autographs outside Section 218 before Saturday's game at the Coliseum for fans who make a $30 donation to the school, which will be recognized as the Nonprofit of the Game.

View Full Game Coverage

DUBLIN, Calif. -- Kids at the School of Imagination received a special guest on Wednesday morning, when A's utility player Chad Pinder and his fiancee, Taylor, spent time at the full-inclusion preschool serving special-needs children.

Pinder also will be signing autographs outside Section 218 before Saturday's game at the Coliseum for fans who make a $30 donation to the school, which will be recognized as the Nonprofit of the Game.

View Full Game Coverage

Wednesday was Pinder's second visit to the school, which serves around 600 kids a year with developmental challenges, such as autism.

"I had a blast," said Pinder, 26. "It was awesome ... I got to hang out with a bunch of classes and do a bunch of activities, which was just a lot of fun."

The school was founded by Charlene Sigman and her husband, Mitch, who originally operated it out of their home in nearby Pleasanton. When the number of students grew from four to 100, the city asked them to find another location. They wound up moving seven times in six years, jumping between office spaces and churches before the mayor of Dublin helped them land a 12,024-square-foot building, which they refurnished, redesigned and opened in 2011.

The first year, they had three open classrooms. Today, they have none. There are 150 children on the wait list, and there is a foundation and a scholarship program. Last year, there was close to $70,000 in scholarships.

"Just to raise awareness for this school and the community, it's huge for them," Pinder said. "There's no reason that more people in the area shouldn't know about it."

Tweet from @Athletics: Chad Pinder and his fianc��e Taylor hung out with kids at @soi4kids in Dublin today. Chad���s dress-up game is on point with the gold head scarf(?). 😂 pic.twitter.com/ZSCm6ncKVP

The Sigmans said visits from players and support from the A's means the world to the program because of the awareness it raises.

"Someone like Chad, willing to take time out of his very busy schedule to support us and raise awareness and funds, that's what makes it work," Mitch Sigman said. "Otherwise, I don't where the resources would come from. It's a really nice dream to have. But it's people like Chad, who are willing to give up their time, that makes it happen."

Charlene added that Pinder visiting gives everyone an extra boost.

"It's so great for the kids to just have him here," she said. "All that positive attention for them, they feel very special about that. The teaching team, it just gives us all a little lift."

Tweet from @Athletics: Chad will also be signing autographs for $30 an item at the Community Corner from 11:05am-11:30am before this Saturday���s game. All proceeds benefit @soi4kids. pic.twitter.com/4oZypO5DDq

Pinder made the visit on a tip from Stephen Vogt, the former A's catcher who made routine trips to the school when he was in Oakland. Vogt was claimed off waivers by the Brewers last year, but he called Pinder over the offseason and asked if he could keep the visits going.

"This was a big part of his life here," Pinder said of Vogt. "He used to bring his family out here. He just asked me if I would want to take over the reins, come hang out with the kids, and I was all for it. Extremely glad that I took the opportunity."

Eric He is a reporter for MLB.com based in Oakland.

Oakland Athletics, Chad Pinder

MLB dream within reach at Breakthrough Series

MLB.com

KANSAS CITY -- For several participants in this year's Breakthrough Series in Kansas City, the experience is not something new. But while they may have been through the program in the past, one thing makes this year more important: ties to last week's Major League Baseball Draft.

Of the 60 Breakthrough Series players in Kansas City, 15 have participated in previous developmental programs sponsored by MLB and USA Baseball, which are making an effort to advance the skills of players from underserved communities nationwide. In addition to the annual iterations of the Breakthrough Series, players may also take part in the Dream Series and Elite Development Invitational events.

KANSAS CITY -- For several participants in this year's Breakthrough Series in Kansas City, the experience is not something new. But while they may have been through the program in the past, one thing makes this year more important: ties to last week's Major League Baseball Draft.

Of the 60 Breakthrough Series players in Kansas City, 15 have participated in previous developmental programs sponsored by MLB and USA Baseball, which are making an effort to advance the skills of players from underserved communities nationwide. In addition to the annual iterations of the Breakthrough Series, players may also take part in the Dream Series and Elite Development Invitational events.

• Complete Breakthrough Series coverage

These programs offer the players not only an opportunity to polish their skills, but also a potential path to the pros through exposure to scouts. In this year's Draft, 25 Breakthrough Series alumni were selected, something that encourages this year's crop of prospects.

"It's just good to know I was working with those guys last year, same event," said Isaac Nunez, a shortstop from Altamonte Springs, Fla. "For them to come out and make a name for themselves, it sets me up for my future, too."

For the players, watching the same guys they were on the field with last year is a reminder that their dreams are achievable. They're not taking that for granted.

"It means a lot," said Trey Faltine, a shortstop and pitcher from Richmond, Texas. "It shows that there are scouts in here watching us, and that being here gives you the opportunity to fulfill your dreams and have that chance to be a professional baseball player one day."

It's not just the exposure that makes a difference, though. Several guests will speak to the group, including Royals legend and Hall of Famer George Brett, who spoke about the importance of mental preparation as a player every day. Alcides Escobar of the Royals and Billy Hamilton of the Reds will speak on Tuesday.

The players also received top-notch instruction from an experienced cast of coaches, who helped with their mechanics, provided insight about the game and taught strategies and form.

Tom Gordon, Marquis Grissom and LaTroy Hawkins highlight the event's leadership staff, which is piloted by former Major League infielder and manager Jerry Manuel. In all, the 17 instructors combined for 10 All-Star selections and more than 150 years of big league experience, something that doesn't go unnoticed.

Tweet from @MLBDevelops: Hall of Famer @GeorgeHBrett in the building at @KC_UYA! pic.twitter.com/mKyvQuHy9c

"All these coaches have been where we all want to get to," said Nasim Nunez, a shortstop from Lawrenceville, Ga.

Simply being here isn't good enough, though, and the players know that. Those Breakthrough alumni who made it to the professional level last year had to compete with thousands of others across the country.

Tweet from @KC_UYA: The KCUYA welcomes the #BreakthroughSeries! pic.twitter.com/WJDHosdb6a

After all, they are in Kansas City for only four days. If you ask them, it's the work done in the other 361 days that truly makes the difference.

"People are talented that come out of here," said Chase Davis, an outfielder from Elk Grove, Calif. "It just gives me a shot and makes me realize that I could keep doing the same thing as long as I keep working hard and getting after it every day."

Jordan Wolf is a reporter for MLB.com based in Kansas City.

Kansas City Royals