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Youth Baseball

Ways to Play youth tourney tries new pace rules

Some of baseball's brightest young talent competed over weekend in Georgia
MLB.com

MLB and Perfect Game hosted a unique baseball experience over the weekend at Perfect Game Park South in Emerson, Ga., with the second annual Ways to Play tournament.

The tournament featured some of the best youth teams in the country competing with different pace-of-play rules, including all at-bats starting with a 1-1 count and no around-the-horn throws between outs. Batters must also keep one foot within the batter's box at all times, and mound visits are limited to four per game. If a game is tied after nine innings, extra frames begin with a runner on second base.

MLB and Perfect Game hosted a unique baseball experience over the weekend at Perfect Game Park South in Emerson, Ga., with the second annual Ways to Play tournament.

The tournament featured some of the best youth teams in the country competing with different pace-of-play rules, including all at-bats starting with a 1-1 count and no around-the-horn throws between outs. Batters must also keep one foot within the batter's box at all times, and mound visits are limited to four per game. If a game is tied after nine innings, extra frames begin with a runner on second base.

The unique rules encourage aggressive play, while also easing wear and tear on pitchers' arms.

The event, which was first played last year in Atlanta, was the second this month after a tournament at MLB's Youth Academy in Compton, Calif.

"When you talk about the pace of the game and having the kids be more aggressive, wanting to see the kids swing the bat and play the game at an up-tempo pace, we think the 1-1 count is conducive to that," MLB's senior director for baseball development Del Matthews said. "The players have to lock in from the first pitch. ... It's great to see them adjust, it's great to see them try new things. It's all part of the evaluation process and their development."

A team made up of participants from MLB's Breakthrough Series -- a joint development program between USA Baseball and MLB -- finished as the runner-up in the tournament, losing in the championship game, 6-4, to Canes National. The Breakthrough Series, which was established in 2008, focuses on developing players on and off the field and provides a platform for players to perform for scouts and college coaches. The program had three events in Kansas City, Compton and Bradenton, Fla., in June and saw 25 alumni selected in the 2018 MLB Draft.

Michael Harris II of the Breakthrough Series team was named Most Valuable Pitcher, while Canes National outfielder Corbin Carroll, a top 2018 Draft prospect, earned Most Valuable Player honors.

Tweet from @PerfectGameUSA: And Corbin Carroll (WA) with another HR at Ways to Play powered by MLB and PG. 97 mph off his bat and went 390 feet. Special player @TrackManBB https://t.co/M7qqn5YLY8 pic.twitter.com/3zVxdANqvo

Harris followed up a dominant pitching performance against the Dullins Dodgers on Saturday by hitting a game-tying, two-run homer in the bottom of the ninth inning in Sunday's semifinal game.

Tweet from @MoneyyyMikeee: Love the Game ������������🔥 pic.twitter.com/sWHA8QptHC

"[Harris] is probably one of the best two-way players at this level," said MLB Breakthrough Series coach Marvin Freeman, who played 10 years in the Majors from 1986-96 with the Phillies, Braves, Rockies and White Sox. "He's a total professional. He's probably the hardest-working, quietest kid I've been around, and his talent speaks for itself. When he's on that field, I just sit back. I wish I had 10 Mike Harrises on my team."

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

Youth tourney makes 'exciting' rule changes

Special to MLB.com

COMPTON -- Major League Baseball and Perfect Game joined forces at MLB's Compton Youth Academy for the first West Coast Ways To Play tournament, featuring eight of the top travel teams and some of the top Draft prospects in Southern California and Las Vegas.

What makes the Ways to Play tournament unique is the rules to help speed up the games. Batters begin the at-bat with a 1-1 count and must keep a foot in the box.

COMPTON -- Major League Baseball and Perfect Game joined forces at MLB's Compton Youth Academy for the first West Coast Ways To Play tournament, featuring eight of the top travel teams and some of the top Draft prospects in Southern California and Las Vegas.

What makes the Ways to Play tournament unique is the rules to help speed up the games. Batters begin the at-bat with a 1-1 count and must keep a foot in the box.

Additional rules include no throwing the ball around the horn between outs and a maximum of only four mound visits per game. Should a game be tied after nine innings, all subsequent innings start with a runner on second base.

"An event like this is important because it's both of our missions to help grow the game and we believe that by trying new and exciting ways to speed the game up, it makes it more enjoyable for players at the amateur level," Perfect Game CEO Brad Clement said of his organization's partnership with Major League Baseball.

Darrell Miller, vice president of Youth and Facility Development for MLB, believes the tournament's unique rules quicken the pace of games and also alleviate wear and tear on young arms.

"This is an instant-gratification generation, they want things now and they want it quick, the idea is to make the adjustment in sports," Miller said. "For kids in these tournaments, they're able to play more games and throw less pitches, thereby reducing stress in the young arms, all in same amount of time."

The Ways To Play South tournament, which was first played last year in Atlanta, is joined this year by this weekend's tournament in Southern California. 

"This is the first time we've done this on the West Coast," Clement said, "and we're excited to have some of the top travel teams participating, and are especially glad to have the Compton Youth Academy team, as well as some of the top prospects in the next couple of years' drafts."

Those top prospects include first baseman Joseph Naranjo, who has committed to play next season for Cal State Fullerton, Thomas Dilandri, an outfielder who will play at TCU, and third basemen Jaden Agassi, son of tennis stars Andre Agassi and Steffi Graf who has committed to USC.

Also playing in the tournament was Kyle Karros, son of former Los Angeles Dodger Eric Karros, who was there watching and had some thoughts regarding the current speed of the game.

"For the average fan, especially in today's fast-pace society where it's now, now, now, it can be a bit of an issue. On the other hand, I'm a bit of a traditionalist, I like the thought of the game, the cerebral aspect," Karros said, adding that he wasn't opposed to trying new things.

"Events such as this, it can be applicable. They work at this level. I like the idea of not throwing the ball around the infield, that adds a little time. I like the idea of batters staying in the box. I think the experimentation at the youth level makes a lot of sense."

The reaction from players and families has been positive, according to Miller, and he believes it can help the future of baseball.

"People love the game, it's a great game," he said. "Let's teach the kids to play in a timely fashion. Hustle in, hustle out, stay in the batter's box."

Miller also likes seeing the catchers calling their own games, which isn't a tournament rule.

"Let the kids call their own game, they have enough information," Miller said. "They know the game better than we think they do."

The tournament consists of eight teams, each playing three games, two on the first day. Saturday's games are single elimination, with the losing teams moving on to the consolation bracket and winning teams advancing to the championship round. On Sunday, the first three games match Saturday's losing teams, with the two winning teams meeting for the championship.

Glenn Rabney is a contributor to MLB.com based in Los Angeles.

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.