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Dr. King a guiding light in Grissom's life

Civil rights leader's example inspires retired star to give back
MLB.com

This is the definitive weekend for Marquis Grissom. Not only was he born and raised in Atlanta -- the birthplace of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. -- but he has done a bunch of things to enter the Hall of Fame of philanthropy before, during and after his 17-year Major League career.

Let's just say Grissom gave, and then gave some more. Even though he was just shy of a year old at the time of Dr. King's assassination on April 4, 1968, he knows a lot about the sacrifices of the iconic civil rights leader. His parents often discussed Dr. King's courage and convictions. He also met folks around town with firsthand knowledge of the man.

This is the definitive weekend for Marquis Grissom. Not only was he born and raised in Atlanta -- the birthplace of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. -- but he has done a bunch of things to enter the Hall of Fame of philanthropy before, during and after his 17-year Major League career.

Let's just say Grissom gave, and then gave some more. Even though he was just shy of a year old at the time of Dr. King's assassination on April 4, 1968, he knows a lot about the sacrifices of the iconic civil rights leader. His parents often discussed Dr. King's courage and convictions. He also met folks around town with firsthand knowledge of the man.

"Maynard Jackson was huge," Grissom said, referring to Atlanta's first black mayor and a national political giant. Then he mentioned others among the "Who's who" of the civil rights movement around northern Georgia. "Hosea Williams was huge. Julian Bond was huge. I met Bernice King [Dr. King's daughter] about 15 or 20 years ago -- and I hope to have that opportunity again, because she's one of my favorite people in Atlanta to hear talk about the civil rights movement. We've had so many pioneers who paved the way and fought for justice, but Dr. King was everything."

Video: Grissom remembers growing up in Atlanta

Grissom arrived in Arizona from Georgia on Thursday evening, joining other former Major League players at Tempe Diablo Stadium in Tempe, to serve as coaches for the five-day Dream Series, operated by MLB and USA Baseball.

The event, which debuted last year, hosts nearly 80 black high school pitchers and catchers from around the nation. They've gathered at the Angels' Spring Training facility to learn more than just the advanced mechanics of hitting, fielding, throwing and running. Besides former players -- such as stalwart catcher Charles Johnson and the eternally effective reliever LaTroy Hawkins -- umpires, scouts, college administrators and others inform these youngsters about possible careers in every aspect of the game.

Nice. Very nice. Nothing more so than this: Since Grissom has always kept the combination of his hometown and social consciousness close to his 50-year-old heart, he's overjoyed that the Dream Series culminates on Monday, which is the national holiday commemorating Dr. King's birthday. This is why he has to resist the temptation to pinch himself every second these days while he fulfills the wishes of the late Coretta Scott King, who urged folks to celebrate her husband's life yearly during this weekend by serving.

Youth pitchers, catchers live the 'Dream'

You know, like Grissom.

"Yes, sir. YES, SIR," Grissom said, chuckling over the phone. "I actually was laughing with the guys ... and I was telling them just about that, and it's just about us doing what we should be doing, right now. We're down here serving on the King holiday weekend. Not only that, but we've got all of these black kids out here who want to play baseball. These are the elite guys from across the country, so we've got talent out here. We've got some first-round Draft picks -- and for us to do this on HIS day, there's nothing better.

"The other thing is, for baseball to do this, and for us to be here with all of these former players for the holiday, this means the world to me."

It really does. This isn't to say Grissom didn't enjoy the thrills he experienced during his Major League career as a talented center fielder. He has four Gold Gloves to prove it. He also sprinted his way to 429 career stolen bases, capturing a pair of National League stolen-base titles along the way. Other highlights included two trips to the All-Star Game, his 1997 American League Championship Series MVP Award with the Indians, and the World Series ring he earned with his hometown Braves -- he caught the final out to seal the 1995 Fall Classic.

The bigger joys for Grissom came off the field. They mostly involved others, with a lot of help from the man himself.

Video: Grissom on Elite Development event in Florida

After Grissom turned pro following his collegiate career at Florida A&M, he bought houses for his parents and each of his 14 siblings. He also started college funds for the majority of his 42 nieces and nephews. Through it all, he kept moving toward building his own baseball academy in Atlanta to give black youngsters a chance to become the next Grissom and beyond. This is his academy's 11th year fielding teams, with about 120 kids from around the Atlanta area, ranging from ages 10-18. This past season, 11 players from the 18-year-old team received college scholarships -- with 10 of them heading to Division I schools.

Somewhere, Dr. King is applauding.

"Oh, man. He's had an impact on everything I'm doing -- and it goes back to the impact he had on my parents," said Grissom, referring to Marion and Julia Grissom, who grew up in Georgia picking cotton for 50 cents a day. While Julia died last year at 93, Marion is still around at 95. "He's hanging in there. He's a tough cat. You know my daddy was older than Dr. King, and the impact he had on both of my parents was transferred down to me to try to carry on his legacy. So that's why Dr. King is now everything to me -- especially since I was a kid growing up in Atlanta -- for what he stood for and what he represented.

"Most important [to me] was the character building. Everything I got from Dr. King was about character. I try to live my life that way, and I try to help and serve, and I try to do things that help the community and to help people."

Mission accomplished.

Actually, for Grissom, the mission never ends.

 

Washington Nationals, Cleveland Indians, Atlanta Braves

Manuels impacting Dream Series participants

Former big league skipper and sons help empower youngsters
MLB.com

TEMPE, Ariz. -- Former big league manager Jerry Manuel walked to the podium from the back of the crowded conference hall at the team hotel, grabbed the microphone and smiled at this year's class of Dream Series participants.

"Cool. Cool. Cool," Manuel said. "Are we ready? I think we are ready. Cool. Cool. Let's go."

TEMPE, Ariz. -- Former big league manager Jerry Manuel walked to the podium from the back of the crowded conference hall at the team hotel, grabbed the microphone and smiled at this year's class of Dream Series participants.

"Cool. Cool. Cool," Manuel said. "Are we ready? I think we are ready. Cool. Cool. Let's go."

• Youth pitchers, catchers live the 'Dream'

And while some of the teenage participants didn't know the famous baseball man who was about to address them during Thursday's hour-long welcome dinner, they paid attention. Manuel, the head instructor this week, spoke from the heart and quickly won them over by talking about character first and baseball second.

Everybody knows who Jerry is and what he stands for now.

"If you don't have the character, it's difficult to survive -- because this is a game of failure," Manuel said. "You'll never really find your gift unless there's character involved, and integrity and all those things. Now, your gift is there for you, but you can destroy it with one tweet, with one word in today's life. So that's kind of the message that I'm hoping to give out, and introduce them to why they call this the Dream Series -- with Martin Luther King [Jr.] and what this holiday means to some of us who have gone through it."

The Dream Series, an initiative from Major League Baseball and USA Baseball that features a diverse group of some of the nation's top high school pitching and catching prospects, began workouts on Friday and continues through Monday at Tempe Diablo Stadium, the Spring Training home of the Angels. The series -- which is connected to Martin Luther King Jr. Day -- features on-hand coaching from former players, presentations on baseball-career opportunities on the professional and collegiate levels, and athletic assessments through the Prospect Development Pipeline Premier Events.

Joining Manuel in the Dream Series are sons, Anthony -- a Reviving Baseball in Inner Cities (RBI) regional coordinator for MLB and coach during the event -- and Jerry Lorenzo, a renowned fashion designer, who made an appearance on Saturday.

"To be able to empower these young men's lives at this point in their careers and to be part of something that's [as] historic as this is an honor," Anthony said. "The great part is the kids are starting to understand who they are working with and they are open, they are turning into sponges and receiving the information. The goal is it's going make a change in history, and we are on that track."

Anthony was drafted by the Mets in 2005 and played five years of pro ball before he retired to spend more time with his family in Sacramento, Calif. He's on the board of the Jerry Manuel Foundation, an organization that helps the under-served get travel-ball experience, and is the head of baseball operations at the Alpha Charter High School in Sacramento County.

"I currently run that school -- or the program, if you will -- and it's an everyday thing," Anthony said. "We are working every single day on the field, along with in the classroom. We are just trying to develop young men and doing what we are supposed to do."

Jerry Lorenzo was responsible for the 'Fear of God' PLAY BALL-themed T-shirts and hats during the 2017 MLB All-Star Game in Miami and the World Series PLAY BALL event in Houston. He worked in the Dodgers' front office after college and later for a sports agency before making a name for himself in the fashion world.

"I pull from a lot of the references and the inspirations and the emotional connections I grew up with in the game," said Jerry Lorenzo. "It's drawing from Delino DeShields and the swag he brought to the game. It's guys like Darryl Strawberry and some of the guys I grew up looking up to."

The Manuels fashion themselves as a baseball family. They would not have it any other way.

"I've been in baseball since 1972, a lifetime, and I'm very satisfied and happy with the fact that I chose it," said the elder Manuel. "And I have to applaud Major League Baseball to trust us with making a dent, and making some inroads into kids' lives and lives of people [who] want to make the game what our culture or any culture considers cool."

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.

 

Youth pitchers, catchers live the 'Dream'

MLB program unites diverse group of prospects, big league mentors
MLB.com

TEMPE, Ariz. -- The familiar sound of fastballs popping into catchers mitts provided the soundtrack to the workout on the back field at Tempe Diablo Stadium.

One by one, the teenagers threw the pitch in the bullpen and then looked back at their big league mentors for advice. Nearby, the prospects' parents watched through a chain-link fence. Scouts from several teams, including the Giants, Nationals and Rangers, leaned on a padded wall and wrote in notebooks.

TEMPE, Ariz. -- The familiar sound of fastballs popping into catchers mitts provided the soundtrack to the workout on the back field at Tempe Diablo Stadium.

One by one, the teenagers threw the pitch in the bullpen and then looked back at their big league mentors for advice. Nearby, the prospects' parents watched through a chain-link fence. Scouts from several teams, including the Giants, Nationals and Rangers, leaned on a padded wall and wrote in notebooks.

"Good one, good one. That's a nice pitch," said former Major League pitcher Tom "Flash" Gordon. "Do you see what you did there? Let's repeat it."

Gordon's work with the Dream Series, just like his job on the mound years ago, is a labor of love.

"I was one of those kids and I was one of those success stories," Gordon said. "I feel like these kids need to know that I am exactly like that, and no different from them in any way. I want them to stay humble. I want them to stay hungry. I want them to have very good character. I think these camps show that because we bring good coaches in to illustrate that."

The Dream Series, an initiative from Major League Baseball and USA Baseball, features a diverse group of some of the nation's top high school pitching and catching prospects. The program began Thursday night with a welcome dinner and continues with workouts through Monday at the Spring Training home of the Angels.

Tweet from @JesseSanchezMLB: Former big league pitchers LaTroy Hawkins and Ken Hill supervise teen prospects at #DreamSeries. The @MLB and @USABaseball event continues through Monday at Tempe Diablo. pic.twitter.com/zXRLGNFdcg

The series, which is connected to Martin Luther King Jr. Day, features on-hand coaching from former players like 20-year big league veterans Gordon, LaTroy Hawkins and Darren Oliver, along with Pat Mahomes, Ken Hill and others. The program also includes presentations on baseball career opportunities at the professional and collegiate levels, along with athletic assessments through the Prospect Development Pipeline Premier Events.

The initiative is also designed to help address the small number of African-American players in baseball. There were only 7.1 percent of African-Americans on Opening Day rosters, a number that included 13 pitchers and no catchers, according to a report by USA Today.

"They saw a void, and LaTroy, Darren and Flash said, 'We want to be a part of this. We see what's happening at the Major League level and we want to be a part of giving back,'" said Tony Reagins, MLB's senior vice president of youth programs. "When you have those type of guys, with what they've done in the game at a high level for a long time and want to be a part of something, it made a whole lot of sense."

Video: Reagins hoping to give youth the MLB experience

The Dream Series program began Friday with morning drills and timed runs. Half of the pitchers threw to catchers in front of the coaching staff. The second half of the pitchers threw Saturday. Hitting in the batting cages and on the main field at Tempe Diablo Stadium is part of the daily routine at the Dream Series.

"Baseball gave me everything that I have, everything, and I am not just talking about money," Hawkins said. "Baseball taught me how to be the person that I am and taught me how to treat people and respect others and respect the game. To be able to give that back to the youth, especially the kids who look like me, means a lot."

Oliver, like Hawkins, Hill and Gordon, patrolled the area behind the pitching rubber and shared his observations with the teens. One pitcher's leg kick during his delivery had to be tweaked. Another pitcher was tipping his pitches because of the way he positioned his glove before he started his windup.

Tweet from @JesseSanchezMLB: More from #DreamSeries in Tempe. @mlb @USABaseball pic.twitter.com/IikLCHVTiq

One teen's fastball had an usually sharp break and he struggled to keep the pitch in the strike zone. Oliver asked for the ball and immediately solved the problem.

"A scuffed baseball is hard to control, and the fastball rarely goes where you want it to go," Oliver reminded the teen. "Ever see a pitcher bounce a ball and the catcher gets a new ball? That's why. Here's a new ball. Now go get 'em."

The teen's next pitch was a perfect strike.

"My thing, I wouldn't just say in sports, but in life, is to be humble," Oliver said. "I don't care how good you think you are and if you are in high school or college or pro. Be humble. People are going to pump you up on how good you are, but how many people around you are going to say to be humble? That's what all of us want these players to think about."

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.

 

Grissom gives back to game with Dream Series

MLB.com

TEMPE, Ariz. -- Marquis Grissom thinks Marquis Grissom has a chance to be a good ball player.

The former Major Leaguer is also doing his part to make sure his teenage son, Marquis Grissom Jr., and the other participants in this week's Dream Series grow up to be good men.

TEMPE, Ariz. -- Marquis Grissom thinks Marquis Grissom has a chance to be a good ball player.

The former Major Leaguer is also doing his part to make sure his teenage son, Marquis Grissom Jr., and the other participants in this week's Dream Series grow up to be good men.

"I had coaches who provided me with equipment, rides back and forth to the ballpark, mentorship and just giving me all the things I needed to prepare for life," said Grissom, who played 17 years in the Major Leagues with the Expos, Braves, Indians, Brewers, Dodgers and Giants starting in 1989. "It wasn't just about baseball. It was getting me ready to become a fine young man and to be productive. I know that's what I'm supposed to be doing, too."

Tweet from @JesseSanchezMLB: Buenos dias from the desert. The #DreamSeries starts today at Tempe Diablo Stadium and continues through Monday. https://t.co/RVKEWZCYuP pic.twitter.com/oE6oYPjWh0

The Dream Series, an initiative from Major League Baseball and USA Baseball that features a diverse group of some of the nation's top high school pitching and catching prospects, began workouts Friday and continues through Monday at Tempe Diablo Stadium, the Spring Training home of the Angels.

The series, which is connected to Martin Luther King Jr. Day, features on-hand coaching from former players like Grissom, presentations on baseball career opportunities on the professional and collegiate levels, and athletic assessments through the Prospect Development Pipeline Premier Events.

"I love teaching, I love development, and I love to see a kid smile," Grissom Sr. said. "When a kid gets it and starts having some success at it, and we're not talking just about baseball, things begin to change. He begins to change, and has more confidence in himself. There are more of us in this space, teaching and developing. Hopefully, we can expand and change the game, and impact as many people as possible that want to pursue the game of baseball."

Tweet from @Shannon__Ford: Hi ho, hi ho, it���s off to work we go. First event of the year @MLB #DreamSeries is underway!! Welcome back Baseball, you were dearly missed. pic.twitter.com/huzvGDJoiC

Joining Grissom on the coaching staff is a list that includes Tom Gordon, Charles Johnson, Kenny Hill, Junior Spivey, LaTroy Hawkins, Darren Oliver, former MLB manager Jerry Manuel and many others.

"The coaches were calling us, asking if we were doing it again because they wanted to be a part of it," said Tony Reagins, MLB's senior vice president of youth programs. "We have probably got about 100 years of Major League experience here. For those guys to share their experience with these kids and hopefully give them some insight on things they never thought about before, it's huge."

Grissom, who retired in March 2006, made a seamless transition from full-time player to full-time youth coach after his playing days were over. It was an easy move, he said, because he coached his two older sons and most of the neighborhood kids in his free time during the final 10 years of his playing career. The former outfielder has spent the last dozen years dedicated to coaching youth.

"This is the perfect time for this event," Grissom said. "It's Martin Luther King weekend, we've got about 80 kids here from all over the country working with 15 to 20 former Major League instructors and we are all trying to get them to understand themselves a little better and understand what it's going to take to become a professional student and baseball player. This is what I've been doing for the last 12 years."

Grissom Jr., 16, is also playing in his second Dream Series. The 6-foot-1, 170-pound right-handed pitcher has participated in MLB's Elite Development Invitational twice and on two MLB Breakthrough Series teams. He says he loves having his father around, and he jokes he is still coming to terms with how good of a player his father really was during his prime

"I just really want to learn a lot from all the veteran players that are here and just to see the level of competition that I'll see in the future as I proceed to, like, college and upper levels," Grissom Jr. said. "Just to know that I'm a prospect feels good to me, but it doesn't stop, because I want to always improve as a player."

The Grissoms realize how fortunate they are to participate in the Dream Series. Grissom is hopeful the experience in Arizona will help his son grow as a player -- and as a person.

"He gets sick of hearing it from me, but when you get a chance to hear it from 10 or 15 other guys, hopefully something might stick," Grissom Sr. said. "And I'm excited for him, I'm excited to be here, and for me, this is what it's all about. I've had a lot of opportunities to go coach at the Major League level, but this is what I enjoy doing right here."

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.

 

Dream Series gives youngsters special insight

High school pitching, catching prospects mentored by former big leaguers
MLB.com

TEMPE, Ariz. -- The video of Junior Spivey's monstrous home run into the second deck in left field at Chase Field caught the attention of everyone in the room.

The clips of former big league pitchers Darren Oliver, Pat Mahomes and LaTroy Hawkins striking out hitters had the teenage prospects looking at each other and nodding their heads.

TEMPE, Ariz. -- The video of Junior Spivey's monstrous home run into the second deck in left field at Chase Field caught the attention of everyone in the room.

The clips of former big league pitchers Darren Oliver, Pat Mahomes and LaTroy Hawkins striking out hitters had the teenage prospects looking at each other and nodding their heads.

"Oh, these kids are definitely going to Google us," Oliver said. "And I guarantee once they read about us and start asking questions, they will understand that we are here for them because we care, and we want to help. What is the point of having all of this knowledge we have if you can't share it?"

The Dream Series, an initiative from Major League Baseball and USA Baseball, featuring a diverse group of some of the nation's top high school pitching and catching prospects, began Thursday night with a welcome dinner. Video highlights were shown of the coaches who are participating in the event. The program continues through Monday at Tempe Diablo Stadium, the Spring Training home of the Angels.

"You can't win without pitching, and the catcher and pitcher touch the ball more than anyone on the field, so we felt it was important to create a strong foundation in an environment, in a player-development camp, and specifically for kids that don't get the opportunity to go to showcases that often," said Del Matthews, MLB's senior director of baseball development.

Video: Hot Stove: Charles Johnson discusses Dream Series

"We can go over mechanics and talk about delivery, strategy, pitch selection, how to mentally prepare, how to prepare for a season, what goes into your training between starts, starter routine, reliever routine," Matthews said. "For catchers, the longevity of a season, the whole relationship between pitchers and catchers. There's a lot of things we can focus on in this environment, that in a true showcase setting you don't really get a chance to do."

The event, which runs in connection with Martin Luther King Jr. Day, is designed to not only prepare the more than 60 participating athletes for a future in baseball, but also spread diversity across the sport.

Video: Reagins hoping to give youth the MLB experience

"There's a void at the Major League level, specifically with African-Americans, but also with African-American pitchers and African-American catchers, so we thought it was important to put something like this together," said Tony Reagins, MLB's senior vice president of youth programs. "This is an experience that hopefully these kids will come away with, that one, they learned a little bit more about the game; two, they learned how to prepare for a game; three, they learned about what Dr. King's dream really meant; and four, other opportunities in the game, off the field."

Tweet from @JesseSanchezMLB: Welcome to @MLB and @USABaseball���s Dream Series. The event runs through Monday at Tempe Diablo.���Without Dr. King, there is no us. ... It started with him. For us to integrate Dr. King���s legacy into our initiative is an honor.��� - Tony Reagins, #MLB���s Senior VP of Youth Programs pic.twitter.com/13eca0eYDd

In addition to on-hand coaching, the second annual event will provide presentations on baseball career opportunities on the professional and collegiate level, and athletic assessments through the Prospect Development Pipeline Premier Events.

The PDP screenings include measurement of agility, movement and cognitive speed, and sports-vision screening. The players will also undergo swing analysis and ball-flight analysis, which for pitchers measures velocity, spin rate and spin axis, among other metrics.

A large number of college recruiters and pro scouts are also expected to attend.

"There's a lot of talent in this room, and in the old days there would be scouts, and kids would get seen, but nowadays, they don't always get seen," Mahomes said. "So, for them to come here and get training from some guys that have been in the big leagues, and have done it, and they get to see their face and think that maybe they've got a chance, if they just keep on going."

This year's attendees include many players who are already committed to elite college programs, including right-handers Kumar Rocker (Vanderbilt), Simeon Woods-Richardson (Texas), Sanson "Tre" Faltine (Texas), Christian Little (Vanderbilt), DJ Jefferson (USC) and Irving Carter (Miami); left-hander Armari Paula (Virginia); and catchers CJ Rodriguez (Vanderbilt) and Ian Moller (LSU).

"There are a lot of former guys who played in the pros and a lot of baseball knowledge here, especially pitching-wise, so to be able to be here and learn from them is really big," Faltine said. "I've participated in other Urban Youth Academy series, like the one in Compton, and there's a lot of information, a lot of mechanical information and stuff about the mental part of the game and how to grow mentally, and what to be aware for when you're doing certain things, and how to cooperate with that."

Coaches at this year's Dream Series include former MLB All-Stars Tom "Flash" Gordon, Charles Johnson, Kenny Hill, Junior Spivey and Marquis Grissom. The coaching staff also includes Hawkins and Oliver, former MLB manager Jerry Manuel and former MLB front-office executive Reggie Waller, among others.

"The inspiration and aspiration, that's a big part of it," Matthews said. "Coming in here, staying in the hotel we're at, being at the Tempe Diablo Stadium, a Major League Spring Training facility, it gives the kids a little bit of a taste of what the Major Leagues is like, what it can be like.

"The life that they've been working at as high schoolers where they aspire to be Major Leaguers, or to go to the next level and play in college, this gives them a little bit of what it could be like if you go to the next level."

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.

 

Hinch announces new youth coaching partnership

Amateur giants USA Baseball and ABCA team up to improve resources for youth-level coaching
MLB.com

Astros manager A.J. Hinch announced amateur coaching news on Saturday that will help improve the next generation of ballplayers, whether they become small-town legends or World Series heroes. USA Baseball and the American Baseball Coaches Association (ABCA) will join forces to create a higher standard of coaching education at all youth levels.

"Coaches are the bedrock of player development and the player experience," Hinch said. "That's why this partnership is so important to me and critical to our game."

Astros manager A.J. Hinch announced amateur coaching news on Saturday that will help improve the next generation of ballplayers, whether they become small-town legends or World Series heroes. USA Baseball and the American Baseball Coaches Association (ABCA) will join forces to create a higher standard of coaching education at all youth levels.

"Coaches are the bedrock of player development and the player experience," Hinch said. "That's why this partnership is so important to me and critical to our game."

The announcement came at the 74th annual ABCA Convention -- the largest baseball coaching convention in the world -- in Indianapolis, and the partnership aims to enhance the ability of instructors at all levels to better serve their athletes, teams and communities.

"Supporting coaches in their own development is a core initiative for USA Baseball and the ABCA," said Rick Riccobono, USA Baseball's chief development officer. "When coaches are better informed, better educated and better prepared to teach their athletes, everyone benefits."

The powerful tag team of USA Baseball -- the national governing body of the sport -- and the ABCA -- the top professional organization for amateur baseball coaching -- means that coaches will now have more direct access to an enormous amount of online and in-person training material, such as a new Coaches Community Clinic program, as well as USA Baseball's current free Mobile Coach App and coaching resource page.

"We couldn't be more excited about the possibilities of the partnership between the ABCA and USA Baseball," said ABCA executive director Craig Keilitz. "Between the two organizations, there are so many different assets -- whether they are clinics, the education center, other videos, podcasts, Inside Pitch Magazine -- and we are planning to leverage those into the most comprehensive baseball coaching education program to date."

The announcement comes as USA Baseball enters its fourth year as a partner with MLB on the Play Ball initiative, aimed at getting kids to play the game, in all settings, and providing the tools to help them grow within the game.

Tweet from @USABaseball: World Series champion and six-time Team USA alum A.J. Hinch announced our new educational partnership with @ABCA1945 this morning. 📝: https://t.co/H4CUEqZS4c pic.twitter.com/Jz4nqHJcqT

"Research and studies have demonstrated a direct link between the quality of coaching and the personal development, enjoyment and participation retention for kids who play our game," said Chris Marinak, MLB's executive VP of strategy, technology & innovation. "We have worked closely with USA Baseball to make the sport more accessible for young people of all backgrounds. They now continue to grow their leadership in this space with this new partnership with ABCA, which will take innovative approaches to reaching youth baseball coaches wherever they may be. We are looking forward to seeing the positive results from their efforts."

Hinch boasts an impressive amateur resume. Long before he led one of the most potent -- and youthful -- MLB teams to the 2017 World Series title in Houston, he was the Gatorade Player of the Year at Midwest City (Okla.) High School in 1992. He then became a two-time Pac-10 Player of the Year and three-time All-American at Stanford, ranking in the program's top 10 all time in eight offensive categories and helping to lead the school to the 1995 College World Series -- while also earning a degree in psychology.

He played on USA Baseball national teams and appeared, as a catcher, in international championships every year from 1991-94, culminating with a roster spot on the bronze medal-winning squad in the 1996 Atlanta Olympics.

Hinch spoke to current high school prospects at a Prospect Development Pipeline event last January, and his appearance in Indianapolis on Saturday to announce the coaching mega-partnership let him show that top-notch coaching can help today's young players reach their full potential.

"This partnership brings together the two organizations best positioned to support the commitment of baseball coaches at all levels of the amateur game," Riccobono said. "We're thrilled to be working with the dedicated team at the ABCA, and look forward to expanding our coaching education platform in the coming months and years. Better coaches mean a better future for America's pastime."

Mike McCormick is an editorial director for mlb.com.

 

New youth bat standard in effect for 2018

Metal bats in youth leagues will perform more like wood
MLB.com

If it seemed like far more gifts than usual were wrapped in long skinny boxes this holiday season, there was good reason: New youth bat standards took effect on Jan. 1.

Beginning with the upcoming season, kids in most leagues below high school and college will need a bat that adheres to the new rules, called USABat, that is aimed at producing metal bats that act more like wood.

If it seemed like far more gifts than usual were wrapped in long skinny boxes this holiday season, there was good reason: New youth bat standards took effect on Jan. 1.

Beginning with the upcoming season, kids in most leagues below high school and college will need a bat that adheres to the new rules, called USABat, that is aimed at producing metal bats that act more like wood.

USA Baseball, the national governing body for baseball, adopted a new method for measuring bat performance in the testing of youth bats based on the work of a committee of scientific experts. The plan was announced more than two years ago to give bat manufacturers ample time to research, design, test and produce the new models.

"USA Baseball and our participating national member organizations feel that this [new bat standard] is what's best for the long-term integrity for youth baseball, and we also feel that it'll make the game more uniform at the youth level and across the board," said USABat program director Russell Hartford during a recent panel discussion on the topic.

The majority of major youth baseball organizations -- including the American Amateur Baseball Congress (AABC), Babe Ruth Baseball/Cal Ripken Baseball, Dixie Youth Baseball, Little League Baseball and PONY Baseball -- support and will adopt the new regulations. No previously approved bats not bearing the USABat logo will be permitted in any of these leagues.

"In the late 1990s, there were no youth bat performance standards," said Steve Keener, president and CEO of Little League International. "And Little League Baseball adopted a standard that was established through the manufacturing industry. As technology changed and bats were being made of new material, we saw legislation -- trying to ban the use of non-wood bats, as people felt that everyone should play the game of baseball with a wood bat. Five or six years later, we thought that we should develop a standard like that they have for wood bats.

"The problem with wood bats for youth baseball is that very often they are top-heavy for youth players. When you are 7, 8 or 9 years old and trying to swing a sledgehammer in some respects, it makes it harder to put the bat on the ball."

"A lot went into this five- to six-year process," Hartford said. "It involved leading scientists on the USA Baseball Bat Study Committee [and] extensive research.

"The USABat performs right in line with wood. We have a lot of data and extensive laboratory research backing this up, and have performed field tests at the USA Baseball National Training Complex with over 100 youth participants and a Trackman radar system to collect information."

Keener explained that going for the performance of wood, along with the benefits of non-wood, became the ultimate goal.

"We are trying to explain to parents that this is how we want to play the game: with a bat that still performs like wood but that gives your children the same advantage of swinging a lighter bat where the weight is distributed evenly, which is more fun to play with and makes the game better for kids."

Mike McCormick is an editorial director for MLB.com.

 

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

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

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

"Pure excitement," Gregerson said.

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

"Pure excitement," Gregerson said.

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

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

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

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

Video: Moroff on participating in Fun At Bat event

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

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

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

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

Video: Eflin on participating in Fun At Bat event

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

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

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

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

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

 

Manfred chosen for Little League's highest honor

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Video: STL@PIT: Manfred discusses playing Little League

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

6 Compton YA players commit to D-1 colleges

MLB.com

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

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

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

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

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

• MLB Youth Academy duo commit to colleges

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Stroman holds youth clinic on Long Island

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Video: Stroman discusses winning Gold Glove Award

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Toronto Blue Jays, Marcus Stroman

MLB Youth Academy duo commit to colleges

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

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

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

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

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

• 6 Compton UYA players commit to D-1 colleges

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Kids enjoy Play Ball event at Fall Stars Game

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

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

"That you have fun," Cobb said.

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

"That you have fun," Cobb said.

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

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

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

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

Both agreed that Play Ball serves an important purpose.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Justin Toscano is a contributor to MLB.com.

 

Arizona Diamondbacks, Colorado Rockies, Yency Almonte, Kirby Bellow

Kids enjoy Play Ball event before G4 action

MLB.com

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Video: Rizzo, Manfred join Houston in Play Ball event

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

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

Girl with robotic hand throws inspiring first pitch

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

Video: WS2017 Gm4: Dawson tosses first pitch to Altuve

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

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

Manfred introduced himself to Hailey and her family.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Houston Astros