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Youth Baseball

Souza, D-backs take part in PLAY event

MLB.com

PHOENIX -- For D-backs outfielder Steven Souza Jr., the time he spent working with a group of kids as part of the National PLAY campaign, which promotes the importance of children living a healthy lifestyle and disability inclusion, was an experience he won't forget.

The program was created in 2004 by the Professional Baseball Athletic Trainers Society to raise awareness about children's health issues and the obesity epidemic in the United States.

PHOENIX -- For D-backs outfielder Steven Souza Jr., the time he spent working with a group of kids as part of the National PLAY campaign, which promotes the importance of children living a healthy lifestyle and disability inclusion, was an experience he won't forget.

The program was created in 2004 by the Professional Baseball Athletic Trainers Society to raise awareness about children's health issues and the obesity epidemic in the United States.

Children from the National Down Syndrome Society took part in the PLAY event Wednesday with the support of the Ruderman Family Foundation, which advocates for the full inclusion of people with disabilities in society.

The D-backs' training staff, including head athletic trainer Ken Crenshaw, assistant athletic trainer Ryan DiPanfilo and strength and conditioning coach Nate Shaw, also participated in Wednesday's event.

"I went around and asked them where they were from and it was amazing how many different countries were represented," Souza said. "It was so cool to be able to be around them. They were so excited that it made my day."

Shaw put the kids through some agility drills and showed them different exercises.

"It was a pretty cool thing," Shaw said. "These kids were really into it. They just loved being out on the grass running around. To see the big smiles on their faces made it worthwhile for me. It was special."

PLAY, which stands for Promoting a Lifetime of Activity for Youth, has conducted more than 300 events inside all 30 Major League ballparks reaching tens of thousands of America's young people with their message.

"I just talked to them about making some healthy choices in life and making sure they got away from the video games and got outside when they could," Souza said. "Seeing them today was energizing and reminded me why I love what I get to do every day."

Steve Gilbert has covered the D-backs for MLB.com since 2001. Follow him on Twitter @SteveGilbertMLB.

Arizona Diamondbacks, Steven Souza Jr.

Father, son share riveting story at T12 showcase

MLB.com

TORONTO -- At 17 years old, Tyrell Schofield-Sam is getting opportunities his father never had.

He capped a weekend at the Blue Jays' Tournament 12 showcase with a pair of RBIs in the championship game to help clinch a 5-2 victory for Ontario Green over team Alberta. He hit .278 in six games at the tournament and solidified himself as one of Canada's top prospects.

TORONTO -- At 17 years old, Tyrell Schofield-Sam is getting opportunities his father never had.

He capped a weekend at the Blue Jays' Tournament 12 showcase with a pair of RBIs in the championship game to help clinch a 5-2 victory for Ontario Green over team Alberta. He hit .278 in six games at the tournament and solidified himself as one of Canada's top prospects.

When Schofield-Sam's father, Frankie Gurnie Sam, was 17 years old, his life was completely different.

"I was homeless," Sam said. "Sleeping in the staircases of apartment buildings."

At 16 years old, Sam immigrated to Canada with his mother from Saint Vincent. He hardly knew his father when his family moved from the island, and within a year of living in Toronto he was kicked out of his house.

"I made a vow to myself," Sam said. "I will never ever let my kids go through what I went through; I will be there for them no matter what."

Over the past five days, that vow brought Sam to Canada's marquee baseball showcase at Rogers Centre to watch his son continue his pursuit of his dream.

"I want to play in the MLB," Schofield-Sam said.

Schofield-Sam has loved baseball since he was very young. His mother used to bring him in his stroller to watch his father play slow-pitch. While he watched he was quietly absorbing far more than his father realized.

"I came home and he was 3 years old," Sam said, "and he said watch what I can do. ... He took me in the backyard, picked up the baseball, threw it in the air, and swung at it 10 times without missing."

It was a moment that has stuck with Sam. He quickly came to realize his son was athletically talented, but he also knew pursing baseball was going to come with sacrifices. Years later, when Schofield-Sam was 9, he told his father he wanted to devote himself to baseball.

"He said to me, 'Dad I really want to play baseball,'" Sam said. "I said, 'I'll make you a deal, you work hard, put in the time, and don't worry about it. Daddy's got your back, financially, don't worry about it, I've got your back.'"

Sam wants to provide his son with the support he never had. He works long hours driving a truck, heading off to work at 1 or 2 in the morning, without any sleep some days, just to help his son pursue his dream.

"I didn't get to do what I wanted to do as a kid," Sam said. "So I'm happy for him that I provide the support for him so he can accomplish his dreams."

Schofield-Sam spends his days bouncing between school and baseball workouts. He doesn't play video games or date, his dad says, instead he's up in his room doing push-ups and sit-ups. Sam says his son spends 23 hours a week working on baseball.

It's all in pursuit of the dream so many of these boys at the T12 showcase share. For so many of these parents, it's about providing their children with whatever support is necessary to help their children attain their goal. Now, it's up to the college and MLB scouts to decide who gets offers.

Sam says the future is in God's hands. Regardless of what happens next, Sam plans to be there for his son in ways that he was never afforded.

Aaron Rose is a reporter for MLB.com based in Toronto.

Nicoll hopes T12 provides 'vehicle' to college

MLB.com

TORONTO -- "This is about as much of a grandparenting as we do," Gene Wray said while holding his iPad up to videotape his grandson Brandon Nicoll's at-bat.

Gene and his wife, Linda, made the cross-country trip from Parksville, British Columbia, to the Rogers Centre to see their grandson play in his first Tournament 12 showcase.

TORONTO -- "This is about as much of a grandparenting as we do," Gene Wray said while holding his iPad up to videotape his grandson Brandon Nicoll's at-bat.

Gene and his wife, Linda, made the cross-country trip from Parksville, British Columbia, to the Rogers Centre to see their grandson play in his first Tournament 12 showcase.

They're nervous watching him as he stands with the bat over his right shoulder.

"We die every time he goes up," Gene Wray said. "But we never let him see."

Nicoll doesn't see them because he isn't looking for his grandparents. He's just focused on the game and doing whatever he can do to impress the college scouts in attendance.

The 17-year-old outfielder is finishing up his last year at Langley Secondary School in Langley, British Columbia, before he hopes to play collegiate baseball somewhere in the United States. He's hoping his baseball prowess can help finance that education.

"He really would like an education ... and baseball is that vehicle," Wray said. 

About 50 percent of the 160 players at this year's T12 event will get some sort of collegiate baseball scholarship, according to an MLB scout. Of those top players, only about 15 will get drafted into a Minor League system and maybe one will ever get into a Major League game.

Tweet from @BlueJays: Cesar Valero crushed some out of the yard today at #T12 Scout Day. Learn more about the highly touted prospect & T12: https://t.co/HtR0vb0aZo pic.twitter.com/t6chRNoxEx

Wray acknowledges that trying to impress the scouts can be a lot of pressure for a teenager, but if Nicoll is concerned, he doesn't show it.

"I don't feel any nerves," Nicoll said.

In four games at the T12 event, Nicoll has gone 4-for-10 with a walk, one RBI and two runs scored. He added a pair of home runs to left field on scout day that he said "felt nice."

To his grandparents, the home runs meant much more.

"It's hard to explain," Wray said as he rubbed the goose bumps on his arm. "I just want success for him."

Everyone has made sacrifices to help Nicoll pursue his dream. Last year, Nicoll moved away from home to stay with his aunt in Langley when he changed schools. He spent 50 weeks away from his home in Coombs, British Columbia, and he missed it.

"He even admitted to his dad, which is rare, that he was home sick this year," Wray said.

The decision to move away came with Nicoll's decision to focus solely on baseball. He grew up playing every sport, Linda says, but he excelled in hockey and baseball. Eventually, like so many other young Canadian athletes, he was faced with a decision to make.

Tweet from @BlueJaysAcademy: Blue Jays President and CEO, Mark Shapiro, speaks to players ahead of the first day of #T12 presented by @NewEraCap. pic.twitter.com/eRB62Drmv8

"You sort of have to make a choice of where you want to go because the travelling is unbelievable," Linda Wray said. "The two kids, one is going up island, one is going down island, one is going across to the main land, so let's try to just play one sport this year."

Nicoll says he chose baseball because he felt it was his better sport. He always played on the best local hockey team, but he felt he wasn't among the best players on the team.

"In baseball I always seemed to be one of the better players on the team," Nicoll said.

Whatever the future holds for him, his family says they'll support him.

"We're in our mid-60s, and his other grandma is 92, and she told Gene, she said, I hope I live long enough to see Brandon succeed in what he wants to do." Linda said. "That's all we want."

Aaron Rose is a reporter for MLB.com.

Toronto Blue Jays

Yankees, MLB hold stickball tournament in Bronx

MLB.com

NEW YORK -- River Avenue in the Bronx is more than just a street that sells Yankees memorabilia and has Yankee Stadium in its backyard.

As part of the Play Ball initiative, the New York Emperors Stickball League, along with Major League Baseball and the Yankees, put on a stickball event under the No. 4 elevated train line on Saturday. Kids from ages 10-14 were invited to come out to participate in a tournament and enjoy the game from which baseball originated.

NEW YORK -- River Avenue in the Bronx is more than just a street that sells Yankees memorabilia and has Yankee Stadium in its backyard.

As part of the Play Ball initiative, the New York Emperors Stickball League, along with Major League Baseball and the Yankees, put on a stickball event under the No. 4 elevated train line on Saturday. Kids from ages 10-14 were invited to come out to participate in a tournament and enjoy the game from which baseball originated.

The event featured competition between four stickball teams, with preliminaries being held Saturday. In the first game, Royal Blue defeated Sky Blue, while the Red team and Royal Blue ended in a tie.

The semifinal and championship rounds are Saturday, Sept. 22. The winners of the championship round will be recognized in a pregame ceremony prior to the Yankees' 4:05 p.m. ET game vs. the Baltimore Orioles that day.

Tweet from @PlayBall: Some more stickball action on the streets in the Bronx! #PlayBall pic.twitter.com/yKEXew8T4V

No matter who wins the title, the kids get to enjoy the game and make new friends, according to New York Emperors Stickball coordinator Jennifer Lippold.

"This game helps us get along, in terms of our kids, they learn to appreciate sportsmanship, appreciate family in a sports venue," Lippold said. "We have wives, husbands, we have generations of families who play this game every Sunday in our league and participate, so getting families involved, seeing so many parents bring their kids to participate, is awesome. It allows us to join in and see our kids grow within the game.

"Also, our kids love it. [They] high-five, [experience] positive competition -- but there's a lot of trash talking in between, trust me -- and it allows the kids to appreciate, after the game is done, we're all cool, we're all friends, but we're going to compete and celebrate our efforts."

One participant, Tyler, hit a double in the first game. To him, it didn't matter who won. All Tyler wanted to do was have fun.

"I focus, I block out all outside distractions because my dad plays it and one day, I want to play with him," Tyler said.

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 Yankees

Play Ball event in Brooklyn draws rave reviews

MLB.com

NEW YORK -- It was hard to tell what was the bigger hit on Saturday in Prospect Park, the MLB Play Ball Park or getting slimed. Both had a consistent line throughout the day at Nickelodeon's Worldwide Day of Play celebration.

More than 2,500 of New York City's youth flocked to Brooklyn to take part in the event. The Worldwide Day of Play is where kids and parents are encouraged to be active. It was the perfect place for a Major League Baseball Play Ball Park setup, a part of the Play Ball initiative, which is baseball's collective effort to encourage young people and communities to engage in baseball- or softball-related activities.

NEW YORK -- It was hard to tell what was the bigger hit on Saturday in Prospect Park, the MLB Play Ball Park or getting slimed. Both had a consistent line throughout the day at Nickelodeon's Worldwide Day of Play celebration.

More than 2,500 of New York City's youth flocked to Brooklyn to take part in the event. The Worldwide Day of Play is where kids and parents are encouraged to be active. It was the perfect place for a Major League Baseball Play Ball Park setup, a part of the Play Ball initiative, which is baseball's collective effort to encourage young people and communities to engage in baseball- or softball-related activities.

Many Major League Baseball employees volunteered their time to take part in the stations and were involved in teaching kids the fundamentals of the game. Mr. Met even made an appearance, throwing some batting practice and giving a few hugs.

Tweet from @Erinnicolefish: Mr. Met giving a bear hug at Nickelodeon���s Worldwide Day of Play Celebration today in Prospect Park. #MLB #PLAY pic.twitter.com/Xz8Sm5DRbm

David James, MLB's vice president of baseball and softball development, says they have put together about 35 Play Ball events across the country this year in an attempt to get more kids playing.

"What's most important is we're sending every kid home with a bat-and-ball set," James said. "Hopefully they have fun, they do it at home and then our endgame with the Play Ball initiative is that hopefully then they go to mom or dad, 'Hey, I want to sign up and play in my local league somewhere.'"

Danielle Oakry was one of the many adults at the park today, alongside her younger sister Alana.

Alana was sporting her Play Ball-branded T-shirt that was given to her last year at the event and was eager to start swinging the bat. Oakry believes in taking her sister to an event like this to encourage her to go out and do things that she knows her sister wouldn't do.

"I think it's good and it helps the kids to see things and do things that they wouldn't have the opportunity to do," Oakry said.

Oakry was joined by her friend and her friend's kids, and the group did nearly everything at the Worldwide Day of Play. They started with the Big Brothers, Big Sisters 5K and worked their way through the hula hoop, the mud runner, soccer, the bouncy mountain and of course -- slime -- before ending up at the Play Ball Park.

Tweet from @Erinnicolefish: The different MLB Play Ball Park stations at today���s Nickelodeon Worldwide Day of Play at Prospect Park. #MLB #PLAY pic.twitter.com/Vv5ZUesng4

"It's good to let the kids play -- especially in New York -- because there aren't a lot of places that you can do this without spending gobs of money," Oakry said. "So for everybody to come out here and be so generous, especially with Big Brothers, Big Sisters, I always take advantage to bring my little sister."

Although the line was long, the Play Ball event was well worth the experience for Oakry and Alana, as well as the 2,500 other children who traveled to Brooklyn to get some physical activity on their Saturday.

"I think they love the Major League Baseball experience," James said. "I think it sort of connects them to the game, to the brand, to see the MLB Network logo and everything like that."

Erin Fish is a reporter for MLB.com based in New York.

T12 players show dedication to game

Young talent not deterred by months of cold weather
MLB.com

TORONTO -- Ten centimeters of snow forced Kai Reum's journey to the Blue Jays' Tournament 12 (T12) baseball showcase to start a day early.

The 17-year-old outfielder left his home in Grand Prairie, Alberta, Wednesday afternoon and spent the night in the Calgary airport just to make the tournament at Rogers Centre.

TORONTO -- Ten centimeters of snow forced Kai Reum's journey to the Blue Jays' Tournament 12 (T12) baseball showcase to start a day early.

The 17-year-old outfielder left his home in Grand Prairie, Alberta, Wednesday afternoon and spent the night in the Calgary airport just to make the tournament at Rogers Centre.

"I was worried the flight might be canceled and I might miss it," Reum said. "So I flew out before, left school and got here."

While most of Canada's baseball talent grows up along the United States border where temperatures make outdoor baseball playable for a few months of the year, Team Alberta has a pair of players who are accustomed to long commutes and short baseball seasons.

Growing up in a town of just over 60,000, Reum says he's constantly traveling to make baseball tournaments in Central Alberta.

"Every weekend. Five hours minimum," Reum said.

Tweet from @BlueJaysAcademy: Blue Jays President and CEO, Mark Shapiro, speaks to players ahead of the first day of #T12 presented by @NewEraCap. pic.twitter.com/eRB62Drmv8

Without a television to watch Blue Jays baseball, he adopted the sport from his father, who played collegiate baseball at Pacific University. The two would play catch outdoors until the weather turned and they were forced inside. These days, Reum works out at the local indoor baseball facility in Grand Prairie or he heads to his basement where he has a baseball tee and hockey net set up for practice.

The baseball season is short in northern Alberta, too short if you ask Reum's grandfather, Bob Reum.

"This spring they had to go out, I've got pictures of them trying to get the snow off the field," Bob said. "Just because there were four feet of snow or whatever there was. So they had to clear it with snow blowers."

Reum's teammate Justin Breen from Fort McMurray, Alberta, certainly knows the feeling of swinging a bat in freezing temperatures.

"If it's not right on the barrel, it hurts," Breen said laughing. "We've been playing in like -10 outside, right before it snows in Fort Mac."

Breen grew up in the most northerly town of anyone at the T12 showcase. He, too, had grown accustomed to the long commutes to baseball tournaments until this past year when he moved to Okotoks, Alberta, to join the Okotoks Dawgs Baseball Academy.

"It's demanding," Breen's mother, Danylle Breen said. "But it's just something that living as far as we do that you just do."

Last year, Breen took the long trip south to try out for the T12 event.

"Guys back home said usually scouts don't come up [to Fort McMurray] and scout from here," Breen said. "But I was like I'm still going to give it a try."

The trip paid off. He made the team and went 2-for-6 with three runs and three RBIs in his first appearance.

The future is uncertain for Reum and Breen. The two plan to play college baseball in the future though they remain uncommitted. An impressive showing at this weekend's showcase in front of dozens of MLB and collegiate scouts could go a long way to helping ensure a bright baseball future.

Aaron Rose is a reporter for MLB.com based in Toronto.

Toronto Blue Jays

Quebec Blue's Tremblay a T12 player to watch

Special to MLB.com

Thankfully, Nicolas Tremblay had a change of heart. He quit baseball at age 6, but with the convincing of a close friend, 9-year-old Tremblay was ready to pick up a bat and ball and give the sport another chance.

It's a good thing Tremblay did, as the 17-year-old will be one of the players to watch at this year's edition of Tournament 12 as a member of Quebec Blue.

Thankfully, Nicolas Tremblay had a change of heart. He quit baseball at age 6, but with the convincing of a close friend, 9-year-old Tremblay was ready to pick up a bat and ball and give the sport another chance.

It's a good thing Tremblay did, as the 17-year-old will be one of the players to watch at this year's edition of Tournament 12 as a member of Quebec Blue.

"I wasn't having any fun with baseball and decided to try soccer instead," recalled Tremblay. "I'm glad I changed my mind, because I can't imagine my life without baseball."

Tremblay, an outfielder, had the opportunity to showcase his skills a year ago at Tournament 12 when Quebec Blue reached the semifinals. He hit .308 (4-for-13) in five games. The event was an eye-opener for the Mont-Saint Hilaire, Quebec, native.

"It was amazing playing at Rogers Centre in front of all the scouts," Tremblay said. "It was one of the best baseball experiences in my life, and I'm really looking forward to the opportunity to play in Tournament 12 again."

Tremblay's 2017 performance at Tournament 12 caught the eye of Baseball Canada's Greg Hamilton, who invited him to the Junior National Team's Fall Instructional League Camp. Tremblay has since participated in four camps with the National Team program, and he is still eligible to compete with the squad in 2019.

"Nicolas is an athletic kid with quick hands [at the plate]," said Hamilton. "He plays [with] an up-tempo style and can impact a baseball game in many ways."

Tremblay remembers the moment he heard from Hamilton about the invite to the Junior National Team.

"I couldn't believe [the news] at first. I was almost crying when he called," said Tremblay. "Playing for Team Canada has been a dream come true, and I'm thankful that Tournament 12 provided me a chance to show what I can do on the field."

Focused on this year's Tournament 12 and hoping to lead Quebec Blue through the semifinals and into the championship contest, Tremblay is entering the event with a level of comfort that he didn't have last year.

"I know what to expect this year, and that will help me on the field," Tremblay said. "A year ago, everything at Tournament 12 was new for me -- the stadium, the scouts and the level of play. This year, I'll be more focused on helping my team win and showing all of the evaluators my tools."

Tremblay -- who says his running speed, arm and bat are the strongest parts to his game -- is looking to join a growing list of players from "La Belle Province" who have used Tournament 12 as a springboard to success at the next levels of the game.

"It's pretty cool when you see some of the guys who have played for Quebec at Tournament 12 and now having success at professional and college baseball," Tremblay said. "I want to add my name to that list."

Charles Leblanc, who's having a breakout season with Class A Advanced Down East in the Rangers' organization, and Edouard Julien, who captured Freshman All-America honours after a blistering season at Auburn University in 2018, are two Tournament 12 grads who are making strides at the next level.

The expectations are always high at Tournament 12 for Quebec Blue, and Tremblay is looking forward to representing his province.

"We have a good team with a lot of talent," Tremblay said. "It's going to be a lot of fun showing what we can do against the best players in Canada."

Adam Morissette is a contributor to MLB.com.

Toronto Blue Jays

Excitement palpable as Play Ball reaches Panama

Chen surveys talent as country gets first tour from youth initiative
MLB.com

Former Major League pitcher Bruce Chen saw the future of baseball in his home country of Panama on Wednesday morning.

In front of Chen stood more than 300 ecstatic participants, running, catching, throwing and hitting during this week's Play Ball event. The kids laughed and cheered for each other at each station. But most importantly, they had fun playing the sport they loved.

Former Major League pitcher Bruce Chen saw the future of baseball in his home country of Panama on Wednesday morning.

In front of Chen stood more than 300 ecstatic participants, running, catching, throwing and hitting during this week's Play Ball event. The kids laughed and cheered for each other at each station. But most importantly, they had fun playing the sport they loved.

Chen will see 600 more eager players this week.

"There is lots of talent here, and the people of Panama really love baseball," said Chen, who spent parts of 17 seasons with 11 teams in the Major Leagues. "It's our number one sport, and the love keeps growing each year. It's great to see the kids play."

Chen is a special guest instructor at first Play Ball activation in the Central American country this week. The three-city Play Ball tour in Panama started Wednesday at MVP Sport City in Panama City. It continues with stops at Estadio Gaby Santos, Chitre, Herrera, on Thursday and Estadio Kenny Serracin de David in David, Chiriquí, on Friday. There are 300 participants expected to attend each of the last two events.

Former Major League infielder Olmedo Saenz, who is from Chitre, is also serving a special guest instructor.

"Talking to kids, they are really excited to play and love that Major League Baseball is helping them learn and develop the game," Chen said. "We have players like Manny Sanguillen and Mariano Rivera. Me and Olmedo and others played Major League Baseball, but there can be more Major Leaguers from Panama in the future. We are very grateful to Major League Baseball for being in Panama to help develop players. It's huge."

This week's events in Panama feature hitting and fielding drills, baserunning and agility workouts. All participants will receive a Play Ball T-shirt, bat and ball set and special wristbands.

"There is a desire for kids around the world to participate and we want to make sure we reach those kids that have interest," said Tony Reagins, Major League Baseball's executive vice president of baseball and softball development. "Panama has a long history in the game, and the kids there want to be a part of the Play Ball initiative. I'm glad we have support from former Major Leaguers like Bruce Chen and Olmedo Saenz to help us cover the country really well. We are excited to be a part of it."

Play Ball launched in June 2015, and it has operated events in hundreds of cities across the country. The program has expanded to locations outside of the continental United States.

In April, the Play Ball activation in Puerto Rico featured more than 450 participants from all over the island. The next month, Major League Baseball played host to the first bi-national Play Ball event with more than 600 participants from Juarez, Mexico, and El Paso, Texas. Also in May, more than 300 young players from all over the Mexican state of Nuevo Leon participated in an activation in conjunction with the Mexico Series between the Indians and Twins in Monterrey, Mexico.

There have also been Play Ball events in Canada this year. There are tentative plans for a Play Ball event in England during the London Series between the Red Sox and the Yankees next June.

"The program is definitely becoming more popular and as we go forward, we are looking to expand Play Ball around the world even more," Reagins said. "What we are seeing is an increase in participation in the sport and we think our initiative has a lot to do with it because we are not only reaching boys and girls, along with young men and women that have played, but also the youth that have never played the game, and I think that goes a long way toward establishing life-long fans of the game."

Jesse Sanchez, who has been writing for MLB.com since 2001, is a national reporter based in Phoenix. Follow him on Twitter @JesseSanchezMLB and Facebook.

MLB builds on Europe efforts with youth camp

Exec: 'This is a starting point for a lot of kids to really take baseball to the next level'
MLB.com

As it continues its efforts to broaden baseball's reach on a global level, MLB's European program enjoyed one of its most successful years in 2017, a hopeful sign of things to come. Recently, MLB Europe held the MLB All-Star European Camp in Regensburg, Germany, with 57 top players in Europe from ages 12 to 15.

MLB's efforts in Europe have taken on a more significant expansion in recent years, perhaps most notably with MLB scheduling its first regular-season games there for next season. And as part of the first ever MLB London Series, the league is sending two of its most storied franchises, as the Red Sox and Yankees will meet at 55,000-seat London Stadium on June 29-30.

As it continues its efforts to broaden baseball's reach on a global level, MLB's European program enjoyed one of its most successful years in 2017, a hopeful sign of things to come. Recently, MLB Europe held the MLB All-Star European Camp in Regensburg, Germany, with 57 top players in Europe from ages 12 to 15.

MLB's efforts in Europe have taken on a more significant expansion in recent years, perhaps most notably with MLB scheduling its first regular-season games there for next season. And as part of the first ever MLB London Series, the league is sending two of its most storied franchises, as the Red Sox and Yankees will meet at 55,000-seat London Stadium on June 29-30.

Yankees, Red Sox will take rivalry to London in 2019

Video: Yankees, Red Sox to play first MLB games in London

MLB's burgeoning presence overseas is reflective of its aspiration to widen its net of interest and talent. Among the countries represented at the MLB All-Star European Camp were Belgium, Czech Republic, Spain, France, Germany, Hungary, Italy, Lithuania, the Netherlands, Poland and Portugal, and the event was held at the same facility that hosted the World Baseball Classic qualifier in September 2012 for the '13 tournament.

The All-Star European Camp serves as a showcase of sorts to help amateur-level participants gain exposure to coaches and scouts in the United States. As baseball has become a more global game, with events such as the World Baseball Classic and baseball's return to the Olympics for the 2020 Games in Tokyo, so has its interest among international youth, MLB believes.

"This is a starting point for a lot of kids to really take baseball to the next level," said MLB European operations coordinator Martin Brunner, who, with the aid of other MLB Europe representatives Dan Bonanno, Bill Holmberg and Shawn Bowman, coordinated and ran the camp, which had MLB scouts on hand as well.

"Not everybody is made for pro ball or made to be a Major Leaguer. But I'm very sure that kids who are in the program today, we're going to see playing for the national teams in the World Baseball Classic or other international events," Brunner said.

Video: A look at the growth of baseball in Europe

With the success stories of European-born players such as Twins outfielder Max Kepler (Germany) and Yankees shortstop Didi Gregorius (Netherlands), MLB is hoping that its pool of big league talent from Europe continues to widen, and it believes such an aspiration can manifest by on-hand engagement with European youth by affording them similar coaching and exposure to what many in the U.S. receive.

For some of the most ambitious amateurs in America, baseball is a 12-month sport, which isn't necessarily the case for those in Europe.

Video: Gregorius, Bogaerts on being teammates for Classic

MLB's efforts in Europe reflect the larger imprint that the league has attempted to make under Commissioner Rob Manfred, who has made a concerted effort to engage young audiences -- players and fans alike. In 2017, MLB Europe ran at least four similar programs in Spain, France and Germany.

"MLB's vision for these types of programs is to grow the game," said Joel Araujo, who works in MLB's international talent development department. "We have a mandate from Commissioner Manfred. He wants to grow the game to different parts [of the world] that aren't traditional baseball places. The idea is to give these players the opportunity to be seen by the scouts, whether they can be drafted or whether they go on to junior colleges or go off to be drafted by MLB clubs. That's the idea. It gives them the exposure and game experience. Hopefully this will pick up and continue to help grow the game."

"I think our youth programs are our most important initiative," Manfred said at the All-Star Game in July. "It's about our future in two respects. First of all, our game is compelling because we have the greatest athletes in the world, and we have to be out there competing and make sure that kids choose baseball so that we have great athletes for the future. But equally important, youth participation builds fans."

Daniel Kramer is a reporter for MLB.com based in Denver. Follow him on Twitter at @DKramer_.

O's host youth for PLAY Campaign clinic

MLB.com

BALTIMORE -- Long before the Orioles took the field on Tuesday night, there was something special happening at Camden Yards. The O's hosted youth from the Y in Central Maryland for the annual PLAY Campaign clinic that promotes the importance of children living a healthy lifestyle and disability inclusion.

Orioles outfielder Trey Mancini, along with head athletic trainer Brian Ebel and members of the O's training staff were on hand to help with the clinic, which included children from the National Down Syndrome Society. PLAY (Promoting a Lifetime of Activity for Youth) events run approximately two hours with participants divided into groups and rotated through a series of stations. These stations touch on everything from healthy eating, injury prevention, strength and conditioning and education about the dangers of illegal performance- and appearance-enhancing drugs.

BALTIMORE -- Long before the Orioles took the field on Tuesday night, there was something special happening at Camden Yards. The O's hosted youth from the Y in Central Maryland for the annual PLAY Campaign clinic that promotes the importance of children living a healthy lifestyle and disability inclusion.

Orioles outfielder Trey Mancini, along with head athletic trainer Brian Ebel and members of the O's training staff were on hand to help with the clinic, which included children from the National Down Syndrome Society. PLAY (Promoting a Lifetime of Activity for Youth) events run approximately two hours with participants divided into groups and rotated through a series of stations. These stations touch on everything from healthy eating, injury prevention, strength and conditioning and education about the dangers of illegal performance- and appearance-enhancing drugs.

Tweet from @Orioles: Earlier today, we welcomed youth from @YCentralMD for the annual P.L.A.Y. Campaign Clinic through @PBATS, in conjunction with the @TheTHF, with Head Athletic trainer, Brian Ebel, members of the O���s training staff, and @TreyMancini. pic.twitter.com/DVdLlzxDSs

In 2014, the PLAY Campaign became the first program in professional sports to include children with disabilities. It is funded with help from the Ruderman Family Foundation, Major League Baseball charities, the Taylor Hooton Foundation and the Henry Schein Cares Foundation.

Mancini is also the club's Hooton representative, which helps educate youth about the dangers of performance-enhancing drugs.

"They told me what the organization is all about and how it's an outlet for people to be drug free, so definitely something I was very interested in doing and something I believe in," Mancini said.

"Got big shoes to fill because [J.J. Hardy] was our rep before. So got to do him proud."

Brittany Ghiroli has covered the Orioles for MLB.com since 2010. Follow her on Facebook and Twitter @britt_ghiroli, and listen to her podcast.

Baltimore Orioles

PLAY Campaign stops at Citizens Bank Park

Youth event features Wiffle ball, obstacle course and more
MLB.com

PHILADELPHIA -- The Phillies' training staff on Tuesday afternoon hosted more than 60 local youth athletes and children with disabilities for the PLAY (Promoting a Lifetime of Activity for Youth) Campaign's annual stop at Citizens Bank Park.

Despite sweltering heat, the children on hand rotated through four stations for a little more than an hour. Two of the stations, situated in the outfield grass, had the children play Wiffle ball and navigate an obstacle course run by the Phillies' strength and conditioning staff. The other two stations, located in the ballpark dugouts, taught kids the importance of nutrition and personal hygiene.

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PHILADELPHIA -- The Phillies' training staff on Tuesday afternoon hosted more than 60 local youth athletes and children with disabilities for the PLAY (Promoting a Lifetime of Activity for Youth) Campaign's annual stop at Citizens Bank Park.

Despite sweltering heat, the children on hand rotated through four stations for a little more than an hour. Two of the stations, situated in the outfield grass, had the children play Wiffle ball and navigate an obstacle course run by the Phillies' strength and conditioning staff. The other two stations, located in the ballpark dugouts, taught kids the importance of nutrition and personal hygiene.

View Full Game Coverage

"I don't know if you can deliver that message enough times for this age group," said Phillies assistant athletic trainer Shawn Fcasni. "It's important to hear about some of these topics."

The Professional Baseball Athletic Trainers Society (PBATS) created the PLAY campaign in 2004 to raise awareness of children's health issues and obesity in the United States. This marked the second year in which PBATS has worked with the Ruderman Family Foundation -- which advocates for the full inclusion of people with disabilities -- and the National Down Syndrome Society to enhance the PLAY Campaign.

Other organizations that have supported more than 300 PLAY Campaign events at all 30 MLB ballparks include Major League Baseball Charities, the Taylor Hooton Foundation -- an organization focused on educating youth about the dangers of anabolic steroids and other appearance and performance-enhancing substances -- and the Henry Schein Cares Foundation, which works to foster, support and promote dental, medical and animal health by helping to increase access to care in communities around the world.

"It's important to emphasize the need to get up and move a little bit," Fcasni said. "You combine that with some of the nutrition principles that they learned about during the talks -- there are ways to give yourself a healthy lifestyle for the long haul."

Fcasni is in his 16th year with the Phillies' organization, and this was his seventh time assisting the PLAY campaign. Every year, he said, there's always something about the group of kids participating that makes it a special experience.

"It's always different," Fcasni said. "It's always fun. The kids all enjoy it. They're always smiling and having a good time, getting a chance to run around on the field where all their favorite players are playing every night."

Joe Bloss is a reporter for MLB.com.

Philadelphia Phillies

Staten Island LLWS squad meets the Mets

MLB.com

NEW YORK -- Although the Mets did not take batting practice prior to Sunday's game against the Nationals, the field was a flurry of activity. Mickey Callaway took the mound, throwing BP to the Staten Island Little League team, which recently lost in the semifinals of the US Bracket at the Little League World Series.

Originally, the Mets were scheduled to watch Staten Island's quarterfinal in Williamsport, Penn., on the morning of the Little League Classic. But because their plane landed late, the Mets missed that game.

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NEW YORK -- Although the Mets did not take batting practice prior to Sunday's game against the Nationals, the field was a flurry of activity. Mickey Callaway took the mound, throwing BP to the Staten Island Little League team, which recently lost in the semifinals of the US Bracket at the Little League World Series.

Originally, the Mets were scheduled to watch Staten Island's quarterfinal in Williamsport, Penn., on the morning of the Little League Classic. But because their plane landed late, the Mets missed that game.

View Full Game Coverage

:: Little League Classic presented by GEICO ::

To make it up to the Staten Island Little Leaguers, the Mets invited them to watch batting practice before the Little League Classic later that night, then scheduled them to come to Citi Field to take some hacks of their own.

"A lot of kids dream to come to the Mets' stadium and take BP, and meet the guys," said Derek Mendez, who pitched and played third base for Staten Island. "It's really cool."

Mendez put his time at Citi Field to good use, asking Todd Frazier -- a former Little League World Series champion -- for pointers at third base. Michael Conforto and other Mets also spent time around the cage, watching the Little Leaguers hit.

"This is just completely over the top," said Staten Island coach Joe Calabrese. "It's amazing how gracious the Mets have been to our kids. From the Classic to here, this is unbelievable. These kids are going through like a regular big league pregame. It's just a great experience for them. It's surreal. It really is."

Tweet from @Mets: Williamsport ������ @CitiField It was great to have the Staten Island @LittleLeague team here for a workout and BP! #LLWS pic.twitter.com/QppOVW6hfs

Since returning home to Staten Island earlier this week, the 12- and 13-year-olds have become local celebrities. Mendez was thrilled to note that "a lot of people as for pictures and autographs, even when I'm just walking around," adding, "it feels like I'm in MLB."

For at least one morning on Sunday, he and his teammates were.

"Really, really good kids," Callaway said. "Obviously, they're having fun, and they can really swing the bat. Maybe we'll see a couple of them up here one day."

Anthony DiComo has covered the Mets for MLB.com since 2007. Follow him on Twitter @AnthonyDiComo, Instagram and Facebook.

New York Mets

Manuel preaches team first at States Play tourney

Former White Sox, Mets manager coaching youth from Texas, California; Witt Jr. stars in Game 2
MLB.com

ARLINGTON -- Jerry Manuel is hoping he can help shorten the learning curve for some of baseball's top amateur prospects during this weekend's inaugural States Play tournament.

The tournament will showcase some of the top rising seniors from Texas and California in a three-game series this weekend. Manuel -- who managed the White Sox from 1998-2003 and the Mets from 2008-10 -- is among a coaching staff that includes Homer Bush, Royce Clayton, Ken Hill, Gerald Laird, Darren Oliver and Andy Stankiewicz, all of whom have big league ties and have lived in the two states.

ARLINGTON -- Jerry Manuel is hoping he can help shorten the learning curve for some of baseball's top amateur prospects during this weekend's inaugural States Play tournament.

The tournament will showcase some of the top rising seniors from Texas and California in a three-game series this weekend. Manuel -- who managed the White Sox from 1998-2003 and the Mets from 2008-10 -- is among a coaching staff that includes Homer Bush, Royce Clayton, Ken Hill, Gerald Laird, Darren Oliver and Andy Stankiewicz, all of whom have big league ties and have lived in the two states.

Video: Matthews discusses States Play development league

Manuel said he's excited about the opportunity to leave a lasting impact on the participating players, especially since the event is in a big league setting. All three games will be played at Globe Life Park.

"The thing that excites me about more than anything is that we're in an era where it's basically showcase baseball, and if it's showcase baseball, that means that the individual becomes bigger than the game," Manuel said. "In this situation, we put it back into perspective to where the game is bigger than the individual, and then you begin to teach how this game is played, and, hopefully, how you can impact and be ready to go at the next level in a sense that you understand what's expected, as far as the strategy goes."

:: Complete States Play coverage ::

• Manuel joins Pipeline podcast to discuss tourney

Manuel said focusing on teaching strategy will be one of his goals during the tournament, and he added that the team atmosphere should give the players a better feel for the game as they continue to develop. Showcase events often focus solely on individual performances.

"We're trying to teach them how to compete in a team atmosphere versus an individual atmosphere," Manuel said. "I think that's what's going to be exciting for them. Hopefully, we can impact and open their minds to, 'Look, this is not a game of checkers, it's a game of chess. If you want to win, you've got to be playing chess. You've got to know what to do and when to do it.' Certain things in a game count versus certain things in a showcase that might not count."

Many of the players in the tournament have had a grinding summer participating in other MLB/USA Baseball development-focused events, such as the Tournament of the Stars, the Breakthrough Series, the Elite Development Invitational, the DREAM Series and the Prospect Development Pipeline (PDP).

Keeping the players focused and energized will be another goal for Manuel and the coaching staff.

"I think when the umpire says, 'Play ball,' and the other team shows a little bit more energy, all of a sudden you get that excitement," Manuel said. "That blood starts flowing and it gets competitive, and you're on a team, not as an individual -- hopefully these are the kind of guys that we bring to the next level, guys who want to compete."

Shortstop Bobby Witt Jr. had another strong showing in Team Texas' 9-1 win over Team California on Saturday, the second game of the series. Witt blasted a three-run home run in the ninth inning and finished 2-for-5 with a double.

Tweet from @DaniWex: For the second night in a row, Bobby Witt Jr. goes yard. Colleyville Heritage high school is dominating tonight with contributions from Logan Britt and Mason Greer too. cc @MLBPipeline @MLBDevelops pic.twitter.com/jevhsNNacI

Witt is 5-for-10 with two home runs and five RBIs in the first two games of the series. He's committed to Oklahoma and is regarded as the top prospect in the 2019 Draft class.

Video: CAL@TEX Gm2: Witt, Greer turn 2 in 7th, score in 8th

Arlington native Kadon Morton hit a two-run double in the fifth inning for Texas. He attends Juan Seguin High School and is also committed to Oklahoma.

Texas took a team no-hitter into the sixth before right-handed reliever Jared Southard allowed a single to Garrett Frechette, California's only hit on the night. Frechette, a San Diego State commit, has four hits through the first two games.

California first baseman Joseph Naranjo got the scoring started on Friday with a two-run home run in the first inning, and he made an impressive play on defense in the first inning on Saturday.

With a runner on first and one out in the inning, Witt hit a popup near first base. Naranjo bumped into second baseman Kyren Paris and fell to the ground, but he recovered to make the catch on his back and throw out Trey Faltine III at first.

Texas has won the first two games of the series. The series finale will start at 12 p.m. ET on Sunday at Globe Life Park.

Wesley Dotson is a reporter for MLB.com based in Arlington.

Hawaii to face South Korea in LLWS title game

MLB.com

The 2018 Little League World Series all comes down to this: the Honolulu Little League from Honolulu, Hawaii, against the South Seoul Little League from Seoul, South Korea, in the winner-take-all championship game today at 3 p.m. ET at Howard J. Lamade Stadium in Williamsport, Pa.

Playing as a beacon of hope and cheer for those back in the Aloha State in the aftermath of Hurricane Lane passing through the Hawaiian Islands, the Little Leaguers from Honolulu capped off an undefeated run through the United States bracket with a win over Peachtree City American Little League, representing Georgia.

The 2018 Little League World Series all comes down to this: the Honolulu Little League from Honolulu, Hawaii, against the South Seoul Little League from Seoul, South Korea, in the winner-take-all championship game today at 3 p.m. ET at Howard J. Lamade Stadium in Williamsport, Pa.

Playing as a beacon of hope and cheer for those back in the Aloha State in the aftermath of Hurricane Lane passing through the Hawaiian Islands, the Little Leaguers from Honolulu capped off an undefeated run through the United States bracket with a win over Peachtree City American Little League, representing Georgia.

Tweet from @GovHawaii: Congratulations! #Proud #AlohaStrong https://t.co/rhTUh8ZUmM

Hawaii will represent the United States in the championship for the first time since 2010, when the Waipio Little League from Waipahu, Hawaii, finished as runners-up to Japan, with a 4-1 loss in the World Series championship.

The international semifinal between South Korea and Japan saw a battle of two perennial powerhouses from the Little League World Series -- in fact, the Little League World Series championship will feature a team from one of the two nations for the ninth straight year.

South Korea last won it all in 2014, when the Seoul Little League defeated the Mountain Ridge Little League from Las Vegas in the championship game. They also played in the title game in '16, when they defeated Panama in the international semifinal before they were bested by New York, 2-1, in the final.

Since that title, Little League opportunities have expanded in South Korea, and three different teams have advanced to the Little League World Series from the nation -- East Seoul Little League in 2016, West Seoul Little League in '17 and, now, South Seoul Little League in '18.

Prior to the championship game, Japan and Georgia will face off in the third-place game at 10 a.m. ET at Lamade Stadium.

International championship
In the first semifinal game Saturday, South Korea bested Japan, 2-1, in the international championship game, preventing Japan from a chance to defend its 2017 Little League World Series title.

South Korea was the home team for the matchup as the last undefeated team on the international side. They jumped out to a 2-0 lead in the bottom of the first inning, with the big hit a home run to left by Ji Hyung Choi.

Tweet from @LittleLeague: South Korea breaks open the scoring! #LLWS pic.twitter.com/dFfxW0MmU6

Japan pulled to within a run in the fifth thanks to a two-out bloop RBI double down the right-field line by Masaumi Ikeuchi. But Yeong Hyeon Kim struck out Japan's Yuya Ito to strand runners on second and third and preserve South Korea's lead.

The game ended on a fantastic play by Kim. In the sixth, Japan got the tying run aboard with one out on Shisei Fujimoto's single to right-center. The next batter, Masato Igarashi, ripped a line drive up the middle. Kim snared the comebacker and threw to first to double off pinch-runner Takumi Nakata and send South Korea to the LLWS championship game.

United States championship
Later in the afternoon, Hawaii beat Georgia, 3-0, in the U.S. championship game behind a 15-strikeout complete-game performance from pitcher Aukai Kea.

"Today's been crazy. Being here today, we find out that the hurricane back home has died down to a tropical storm, so that's great, so then I just played with my heart out," Kea said in a postgame interview with ESPN. "Playing for them, always."

The game went scoreless into the bottom of the fourth inning, but Hawaii broke through on a two-out, pinch-hit RBI single by John De La Cruz. They added on two more runs in the fifth -- both with two outs, after No. 3 hitter Sean Yamaguchi was intentionally walked with the bases empty. Bruce Boucher tripled in Yamaguchi, then scored himself on Jace Souza's single.

Tweet from @LittleLeague: West goes up 1-0! #LLWS pic.twitter.com/JIsORET61y

Hawaii's pitching staff has shut out its opponent in three of the four games it has played in Williamsport, including a pair of shutouts against Georgia in the first and final rounds, and a 10-0 win over the touted Mid-Island Little League from Staten Island, N.Y., before the U.S. championship.

States Play offers exposure for elite talent

MLB.com

ARLINGTON -- The inaugural States Play tournament began on Friday at Globe Life Park, and Tony Reagins, executive vice president of baseball and softball development, is one of the minds behind the creation of the event.

The tournament will showcase some of the top rising seniors from Texas and California in a three-game series this weekend. The two states typically produce the most amateur talent, and Reagins wanted to create a way to showcase the top players from these states.

ARLINGTON -- The inaugural States Play tournament began on Friday at Globe Life Park, and Tony Reagins, executive vice president of baseball and softball development, is one of the minds behind the creation of the event.

The tournament will showcase some of the top rising seniors from Texas and California in a three-game series this weekend. The two states typically produce the most amateur talent, and Reagins wanted to create a way to showcase the top players from these states.

:: Complete States Play coverage ::

"It really started with the notion of providing additional player-developing opportunities for the elite-level player," Reagins said. "It began with a conversation that [Deputy Commissioner] Tony Petitti and I had, about how we can continue to showcase players and spread our Play Ball message. We came up with this idea of natural rivalries. We looked at where the talent around the country came from.

Complete rosters

"We wanted to start to provide a big league experience for these players from these states. We reached out to the Rangers in Texas and they were excited about the opportunity to host this event."

All games will be streamed live on MLB.com, and access to the ballpark is free for the public. The schedule is as follows (all times Eastern):

Saturday, Aug. 25, 8 p.m. - Watch »
Sunday, Aug. 26, 10 a.m.

Many of the players in the tournament have also been chosen to participate in other MLB/USA Baseball development-focused events, such as the Tournament of the Stars, the Breakthrough Series, the Elite Development Invitational, the DREAM Series and the Prospect Development Pipeline (PDP).

Among the group is Bobby Witt Jr., a middle infielder who is considered by many scouts as the top player in the 2019 Draft class. Witt is on the Texas roster and is already committed to Oklahoma. Rosters also include three commits apiece to UCLA, LSU and Texas A&M and five to Texas.

"The idea behind the selection process was to identify rising seniors who were the best in their respective states and we came up with this group," Reagins said. "We think it's a competitive group and it includes guys who haven't had the opportunity to be seen in a setting like this."

Witt made an early impact in the series opener. He launched a two-run home run in the first inning and finished 3-for-5 with a triple in Team Texas' 9-6 win over Team California.

Video: CAL@TEX Gm1: Witt hammers a two-run homer in the 1st

Witt's home run had an exit velocity of 99.5 mph. On his triple, he ran from home to third in 11.48 seconds and had a 29.1 feet-per-second sprint speed. The Major League average on a triple is 27 feet per second.

Outfielder Garrett Frechette was a standout player for California. He went 3-for-5, including an RBI single in the seventh. Frechette started in left field, but he also plays first base. Scouts have raved about his plus raw power.

First baseman Joseph Naranjo blasted a two-run home run in the top of the first inning for California, but that was the only lead the team held. Texas right-hander Will Swope shined in relief of starter Trey Faltine III, striking out eight in four scoreless innings.

Video: CAL@TEX Gm1: Naranjo opens scoring with two-run homer

Throughout the weekend, each of the participating teams will also have the chance to take part in morning training sessions from 9 a.m. to noon each day at the Rangers MLB Youth Academy in West Dallas, which opened last December and is widely considered one of the top youth baseball facilities in the country.

The coaches for the weekend include Jerry Manuel, Homer Bush, Royce Clayton, Ken Hill, Gerald Laird, Darren Oliver and Andy Stankiewicz, all of whom have big league ties and have lived in the two states.

"Not only will this event give the players the chance to play against each other, but also to receive instruction at our Youth Academy in Texas, gain some more insight on the game from those big leaguers," Reagins said. "That was really the mindset, to integrate coaches with that experience who have played or lived in California or Texas."

Reagins said the goal for the States Play tournament in the coming years will be to identify states that are natural rivals. As of now, the plan for next year is to feature Georgia and Florida.

"That's really our next level, to go to Florida and Georgia and create the same type of program and event next year," Reagins said. "Year after year, we'll identify two states who are natural rivals we can engage."

Wesley Dotson is a reporter for MLB.com based in Arlington.