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Nashville kids treated to Play Ball event

MLB introduces baseball to youngsters
Special to MLB.com

ANTIOCH, Tenn. -- While 7-year-old Ethan Baker was picking up a baseball bat for the first time in the Cane Ridge High School gymnasium on Saturday, his father, Nathaniel, was beaming with pride from the gallery upstairs.

"It's great," Nathaniel said. "It brings smiles and chills to you when you see your little boy out there getting a bat or doing any sport for the first time."

ANTIOCH, Tenn. -- While 7-year-old Ethan Baker was picking up a baseball bat for the first time in the Cane Ridge High School gymnasium on Saturday, his father, Nathaniel, was beaming with pride from the gallery upstairs.

"It's great," Nathaniel said. "It brings smiles and chills to you when you see your little boy out there getting a bat or doing any sport for the first time."

Ethan was one of around 80 kids that participated in Major League Baseball's first Play Ball event of 2018 on Saturday, taking place in the Nashville area. The participants went through fundamental drills, including catching, hitting and throwing. The event was held in support of Nashville RBI, Middle Tennessee's arm of the Reviving Baseball in Inner Cities program.

The kids got to learn from Nashville RBI high-school participants, as well as Orioles slugger Mark Trumbo, who saw a bit of himself in the kids learning the fundamentals of baseball.

Video: David James on the Play Ball initiative in 2018

"I can't remember precisely the first time I grabbed a bat," Trumbo said. "But even before Little League, my dad had a little foam one, and he'd do the same thing they're doing out here today, underhand. We did that a whole lot, and it was a lot of fun. That's the building blocks of what allows you to keep going."

Events like the one on Saturday provide an opportunity for a wide base of new players and fans to enter the baseball family. In a rapidly changing sports and entertainment landscape, early exposure is key to keeping young people engaged in the sport, according to Renee Tirado, MLB's Chief Diversity & Inclusion Officer.

"It's going to be a game-changer for us, primarily because there's so much competition in the recreational landscape," she said. "Not only just sports, but the phones, esports, gaming. The earlier we get them, the earlier we get them moving, the earlier they get to kind of touch and feel and look and be a part of it, I think they'll stay for the long haul. You're not competing as much for their attention because now it just becomes part of their DNA."

Tweet from @tmajors29: Cardinals 3rd round draft pick Bryce Denton playing hitting coach for RBI Nashville participants this morning pic.twitter.com/CKRFtsKUyh

It was a rainy Saturday afternoon outside, but the enthusiasm inside the gym was anything but dull. As music blared over the speakers, both experienced and new players ran through the drills with smiles on their faces and got a free bat and ball to take home.

That eagerness to learn the game was palpable even though the closest MLB team is 248 miles away in Atlanta. The baseball community is strong and growing in the Music City, with the Triple-A Nashville Sounds and numerous robust college programs, including Vanderbilt.

"The attendance here is great to see," said David James, vice president of youth programs for MLB. "It's early in the season on a rainy day. You have the Sounds here, so Minor League baseball is a big partner in Play Ball also. We expect to see Play Ball events in all 160 Minor League markets. We want to go wherever the game is and make sure that all kids have an opportunity, and it's pretty neat for us to start off in a Minor League market. We will definitely do work in Major League markets, but if we can help grow the RBI program here with a Play Ball event, we're happy to do it."

Video: Trumbo gives advice on hitting for youngsters

Saturday's Play Ball event is the start of what should be a stellar year for Nashville RBI and the game of baseball in the city. Tony Majors, the executive officer of Nashville metro public schools and the head of Nashville RBI, said the program is going to double or triple in size at the 12-and-under, middle-school and high-school levels.

Majors also said that getting kids introduced to the game at a young age will work to sustain RBI leagues such as the ones in Nashville.

"The reality is if a kid is never introduced to a sport, they don't know if they have the skills or a passion for it," he said. "We have our high-school kids here and kids that played RBI last year working with those children who really have never played the game.

"It's really about them having fun. It's about them being engaged, having fun and saying that this is something they would like to continue. That's the purpose for today."

Giving kids the chance to fall in love with baseball is what the event was all about, according to Trumbo.

"I think the game has become a little more exciting, and that's a good thing," Trumbo said. "At this level, there has to be interest at some point. Events like this introduce [baseball] to kids that have never really thought about playing it. It's a sport they might be really good at. I think that as long as you give them a chance to see if it's for them or not, it's a big deal."

Cutler Klein is a contributor to MLB.com.

Finch set to kick off preseason girls clinics

National Girls & Women in Sports Day is the perfect time to get ready for a full slate of female softball and baseball events
MLB.com

Jimmy Dugan, the brash manager of the Rockford Peaches, a women's baseball team and the focal point of the sports-comedy flick A League of Their Own, gave baseball players around the world some sage advice in the movie's critical moments.

"It's supposed to be hard," Dugan, played by Tom Hanks, said of our national pastime. "If it wasn't hard, everyone would do it. The hard is what makes it great!"

Jimmy Dugan, the brash manager of the Rockford Peaches, a women's baseball team and the focal point of the sports-comedy flick A League of Their Own, gave baseball players around the world some sage advice in the movie's critical moments.

"It's supposed to be hard," Dugan, played by Tom Hanks, said of our national pastime. "If it wasn't hard, everyone would do it. The hard is what makes it great!"

There are few words truer than these. Yet, just as the Peaches did in the 1992 film, girls and women on diamonds across the country are making the sport look easy. From seven-year-old Hailey Dawson's inspirational first pitches, to Shay Knighten's dramatic 17th-inning home run for Oklahoma in the Women's College World Series, female ballplayers are following in the footsteps of the real-life Peaches, who dominated the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League 75 years ago.

Wednesday marks National Girls & Women in Sports Day (NGWSD), a day devoted to celebrating the achievements of female athletes in all arenas, as well as recognizing the march toward gender equality in sport. This year's theme is "Play Fair, Play IX," an homage to the groundbreaking legislation that ensured equal opportunities for women in interscholastic athletics.

Tweet from @WomensSportsFdn: Happy 32nd National Girls & Women in Sports Day! In every state in our country today thousands will honor the exceptional achievements of girls and women in sports. While we recognize this momentous occasion, we remember the work still left for equality. #PlayFairPlayIX #NGWSD pic.twitter.com/mqUoIXA0Us

Cities across the U.S. are celebrating NGWSD, from the eastern end of Long Island, N.Y., all the way to the University of Washington. However, MLB's commitment to letting all athletes, no matter their gender, find their love for the game doesn't stop on Wednesday. It is just getting started.

The full calendar of events kicks off with the Play Ball Nashville event -- aimed at both girls and boys -- on February 10 at Vanderbilt University, the collegiate home of MLB stars such as David Price, Dansby Swanson and Sonny Gray. There are Play Ball events sponsored by USA Baseball and USA Softball happening from coast to coast throughout the year, so every ballplayer can cash in on these exciting opportunities.

MLB has scheduled several events specifically designed for female baseball and softball players in 2018, including a pair of one-day clinics hosted by softball legend and former Olympic gold medalist Jennie Finch. The first of these takes place on February 24 at the MLB Youth Academy in Compton, Calif. and is a great way for girls to sharpen their skills between the foul lines. That same day, there's also a softball clinic hosted by former Rawlings Gold Glove winner AJ Andrews at the New Orleans MLB Youth Academy.

Not only did these trendsetting players get to play the game they love, they also learned from some of the brightest minds in the sport, working with current and former Women's National Team players and coaching staff to hone their game.

The Trailblazer Series is back for a second year, allowing another set of roughly 100 girls to live out their dreams in a tournament held over Jackie Robinson Day Weekend in April.

"Every single day we're reading about a new trailblazer," said Finch. "And that could be any one of us. Seeing young girls break the glass ceiling, it's an exciting time for our game all across the board."

Similarly-specialized showcases and clinics for girls will be held all year long, such as a Play Ball event at the Women's College World Series, the Elite Development Invitational and, for the first time ever, the Girls Baseball Breakthrough Series at the end of May. These events give girls a greater opportunity to follow their ambitions and work toward an equal, diamond-filled future.

Dylan Hornik is a reporter for Major League Baseball.

Manfred, mayors renew Play Ball partnership

Boys and Girls Clubs of America to participate in youth initiatives
MLB.com

WASHINGTON -- Since its creation in 2015, "Play Ball Summer" continued to grow into one of Major League Baseball's most successful youth initiatives by working in conjunction with the United States Conference of Mayors. Last year, a record number of mayors hosted a record number of children at Play Ball Summer events in nearly all 50 states and Puerto Rico.

Commissioner Rob Manfred called the partnership between MLB and the U.S. Conference of Mayors one of the best decisions he has made during his tenure, as he announced on Wednesday the partnership will be renewed through 2020. The Boys & Girls Clubs of America, the official charity of MLB, will also be involved in MLB's renewed efforts with the mayors.

WASHINGTON -- Since its creation in 2015, "Play Ball Summer" continued to grow into one of Major League Baseball's most successful youth initiatives by working in conjunction with the United States Conference of Mayors. Last year, a record number of mayors hosted a record number of children at Play Ball Summer events in nearly all 50 states and Puerto Rico.

Commissioner Rob Manfred called the partnership between MLB and the U.S. Conference of Mayors one of the best decisions he has made during his tenure, as he announced on Wednesday the partnership will be renewed through 2020. The Boys & Girls Clubs of America, the official charity of MLB, will also be involved in MLB's renewed efforts with the mayors.

More on Play Ball

"From Day One, one of my most important priorities was to increase the engagement of young people with what we regard to be the greatest game in the world," Manfred said in D.C. on Wednesday at the U.S. Conference of Mayors Winter Meeting.

Video: Former Angels GM Tony Reagins talks Play Ball Summer

Play Ball Summer, which is a part of MLB's Play Ball initiative, puts on community events meant to engage citizens, families and city departments to participate and connect them to baseball and softball. Play Ball events have become MLB's signature youth engagement activity. Since Play Ball Summer's inception, hundreds of mayors have hosted more than 60,000 kids at these events in their communities, which often include fun activities such as playing catch, running the bases and bat and ball games.

Adding the Boys & Girls Clubs to the fold should only strengthen participation, considering the groups will sometimes collaborate and co-host events with local mayors.

"What's great about the Boys & Girls Clubs is they have an audience that's already captivated and already engaged," said Tony Reagins, MLB's senior vice president of youth programs. "The mayors are going to be doing the events, and the Boys & Girls Clubs are easy partners because they have the kids to fill those events and get more kids playing baseball."

The partnership should continue to grow the games of baseball and softball even more during the next few years as participation increases. Baseball and softball combined to rank as the most participated team sport in the U.S. in 2016, according to the annual Topline Participation Report produced by the Sports and Fitness Industry Association.

"That's what's exciting," Reagins said. "The mayors are really excited about this addition and bringing it back to their communities. The mayors are the backbones of their communities. They're city leaders. And they are well-connected to most organizations in their cities. It makes a lot of sense that that synergy created between the three groups, getting more young people playing our game, is starting to become real."

Jamal Collier covers the Nationals for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter at @jamalcollier.

Lindor on R.B.I. 18 cover: 'It's a huge honor'

Iconic game's latest update includes franchise mode, Home Run Derby and historic players
MLB.com

CLEVELAND -- After setting down an oversized rendering of the new R.B.I. Baseball 18 cover at Tribe Fest this weekend, Francisco Lindor was asked if he is as good at video games as he is at playing shortstop for the Indians. Lindor did not hesitate at all with his answer.

"I'll take on anybody," said Lindor, who then laughed. "No, my nephew beats me all the time."

CLEVELAND -- After setting down an oversized rendering of the new R.B.I. Baseball 18 cover at Tribe Fest this weekend, Francisco Lindor was asked if he is as good at video games as he is at playing shortstop for the Indians. Lindor did not hesitate at all with his answer.

"I'll take on anybody," said Lindor, who then laughed. "No, my nephew beats me all the time."

Lindor will have a chance to reignite that family rivalry this March, when R.B.I. 18 is released worldwide, not only with the Tribe's energetic shortstop on the cover, but with an array of new features. The iconic video game, which was relaunched in 2014 by Major League Baseball, will introduce a franchise mode, Home Run Derby and historic players to the latest update.

R.B.I. Baseball 18

R.B.I. 18 will be available for PlayStation 4, the Xbox One family of devices, Nintendo Switch, iPhone, iPad and Android-supported phones and tablets. While the game is continuing to introduce more realistic elements into the presentation, it is also staying true to what has made R.B.I. Baseball so popular among fans: Fast-paced play and easy-to-use controls.

Tweet from @Indians: Your RBI Baseball 18 cover athlete:@Lindor12BC! pic.twitter.com/A8H6XnhaiV

Prior to the selection of Lindor, R.B.I. Baseball chose Dodgers shortstop Corey Seager (2017), Red Sox outfielder Mookie Betts ('16) and Cubs first baseman Anthony Rizzo ('15) as its cover athletes. Lindor, who was shown the newest cover at Tribe Fest on Saturday in Cleveland, was thrilled to have the Indians represented on the newest edition.

"It means a lot," Lindor said. "I love this organization. I love the city of Cleveland, and being on the cover of R.B.I. Baseball 18 and representing them, it's a huge honor."

Video: Lindor proud to grace R.B.I. Baseball 18 cover

Here are some of the updates R.B.I. fans can look forward to in the new version:

Franchise mode
Fans will have the ability to take total control over their favorite MLB team. That means making trades, signing free agents or calling up rookies, among other options, over a span of multiple seasons. There will be a new player progression system that allows players in the game to develop, improve over time and eventually retire.

Home Run Derby
Gamers will now have the option to take on a friend or go head-to-head with the CPU in Derby environment. Included will be a leaderboard to see how a fan's skills stack up against their friends or other gamers around the globe.

MLB legends
More than 100 retired MLB stars will be available for a gamer's team in franchise mode and other game features. Some of the names available include Jeff Bagwell, Ernie Banks, Johnny Bench, George Brett, Bob Feller, Reggie Jackson, Chipper Jones, Nolan Ryan, Ozzie Smith and Ted Williams.

Those are the three main areas of change, but the R.B.I. 18 will be enhanced in other ways, too.

The pool of authentic MLB players will come with completely redesigned player models, including more than 300 digitally modeled likenesses. Also included will be hundreds of new animations and player-specific animations for a new in-game experience. The ballparks will have enhanced lighting, textures, 3-D crowd elements and new dynamic camera angles, along with specifically-crafted cinematic sequences for all 30 MLB stadiums.

Tweet from @Indians: Hang on to that jersey, kid. #TribeFest pic.twitter.com/ivHoEQgfJQ

The user experience will include an online multiplayer option, allowing players to jump into ranked and friendly exhibitions with friends and others around the world. The game's soundtrack will be updated with new music from more than a dozen popular recording artists, and the team rosters can be kept up-to-date throughout the 2018 season, even in franchise mode.

Visit rbigame.com and follow @RBIGame on Twitter for more information.

Count Lindor among those who are looking forward to the launch of R.B.I. Baseball 18.

"It's fun," said the Indians shortstop. "I love whenever you can play against somebody and see what they've got. Competition, wherever it is, it's always cool."

Video: Lindor thrilled to be on R.B.I. 18 cover art

Jordan Bastian has covered the Indians for MLB.com since 2011, and previously covered the Blue Jays from 2006-10. Read his blog, Major League Bastian, follow him on Twitter @MLBastian and Facebook.

Cleveland Indians, Francisco Lindor

Lindor excited about landing on R.B.I. 18 cover

Indians' rising star among the faces and ambassadors of the game
MLB.com

CLEVELAND -- Francisco Lindor leaned over to examine the large poster that had just been unveiled to his left at Tribe Fest on Saturday. When Tom Hamilton, the radio voice of the Indians, asked the young shortstop what he thought of the new cover for R.B.I. Baseball 18, Lindor cracked a smile.

"I love it. I love it," Lindor said amid cheers from his audience at the Huntington Convention Center. "They made me look good in that picture. So, thank you, R.B.I. for making me look a lot better."

CLEVELAND -- Francisco Lindor leaned over to examine the large poster that had just been unveiled to his left at Tribe Fest on Saturday. When Tom Hamilton, the radio voice of the Indians, asked the young shortstop what he thought of the new cover for R.B.I. Baseball 18, Lindor cracked a smile.

"I love it. I love it," Lindor said amid cheers from his audience at the Huntington Convention Center. "They made me look good in that picture. So, thank you, R.B.I. for making me look a lot better."

Lindor was announced as the new cover athlete for R.B.I. Baseball's latest installment at the Indians' annual fan fest, and the selection was more than fitting. Over the past three seasons, Cleveland's dynamic shortstop has quickly established himself not only as one of the faces of Major League Baseball, but as an ambassador for the game.

R.B.I. Baseball 18

When the idea of playing baseball for a living began to take hold of Lindor's childhood dreams, he did not simply want to reach the Majors. The shortstop is not shy about saying he always envisioned himself becoming one of the best players in the game, as well as an inspiration to kids.

Being on the R.B.I. 18 cover is another way for Lindor to keep extending his reach in the game.

"It's unreal. It's a dream. It's a blessing," Lindor said on Saturday. "I'm blessed to be playing this game -- and to have things like that [cover], that's a plus. I thank the Lord for everything, and I thank the Indians organization and everybody that made this posssible."

Lindor follows in the footsteps of past R.B.I. Baseball cover selections Corey Seager (2017), Mookie Betts ('16) and Anthony Rizzo ('15). The classic video game, which was relaunched by Major League Baseball in conjunction with the MLB Players' Association in '14, will be available this March for PlayStation 4, the Xbox One family of devices, Nintendo Switch, iPhone, iPad and Android-supported phones and tablets.

While Lindor said he would "take on anybody" who challenged him in R.B.I. Baseball 18, the shortstop admitted to having taken some losses on the video-game front lately back home.

"My nephew beats me all the time, so I definitely have got to get better," Lindor said with a laugh. "The first game I beat him, and I beat all my friends. It was like a group of four. Then, I don't know what happened. I went on a losing streak. I haven't won a game since. It's fun. I love whenever you can play against somebody and see what they've got. Competition, wherever it is, it's always cool."

Video: R.B.I. Baseball 18 reveals Lindor on the cover

Both on and off the field, Lindor has earned a reputation for his infectious enthusiasm. During Players' Weekend last August, for example, the Indians' shortstop went as far as wearing the nickname, "Mr. Smile," on the back of his jersey. Lindor describes himself as a big kid, and that has been on full display over his three seasons with the Tribe. After dynamic defensive plays or big hits, that smile quickly surfaces.

Behind the scenes, Lindor has strived since his rookie year to get involved in as much as possible -- especially if working with aspiring ballplayers is involved. He has participated in MLB Network's Play Ball series, started a charity program called, "Lindor's Smile Squad," to host children and adult athletes with disabilities at select home games, and has donated his time on numerous occasions to Reviving Baseball in Inner Cities (RBI) programs, not only in Cleveland, but around the country.

All of that said, Lindor's off-field achievements alone did not clinch his place on the R.B.I. cover.

Lindor has developed into one of baseball's brightest young stars and one of the top shortstops in the game. The switch-hitter was the runner-up for the American League Rookie of the Year Award in 2015, an All-Star in '16 and '17, picked up both Gold and Platinum Glove Awards in '16 and added a Silver Slugger to his trophy case in '17. Two years ago, Lindor also helped lead the Indians to the World Series.

Cleveland won its second straight American League Central crown last season, as it racked up 102 victories and set an AL record with a 22-game winning streak. Along the way, Lindor set career highs in home runs (33), doubles (44), RBIs (89), slugging percentage (.505) and OPS (.842) in 159 games. He set the single-season club records for homers by a middle infielder and extra-base hits (81) for a shortstop. For his work, Lindor finished fifth in voting for the AL Most Valuable Player Award (two spots behind teammate Jose Ramirez).

Lindor said he is excited to see what 2018 has in store for the Tribe.

"We all know we can win it," Lindor said. "We all know we've got what it takes. We've been there. We just haven't closed it. I'm looking forward to it. I'm looking forward to being with my new teammates and my old teammates, and everybody throughout the whole season.

"It's so much fun going from Day 1 in Spring Training all the way to the last day of the season. A lot of things happen. Whether it's good things, bad things, a lot of things happen. A lot of good moments. A lot of time for me to smile, so I love it."

Cleveland Indians, Francisco Lindor

Manfred enshrined into Little League Hall

Commissioner has fostered youth-oriented initiatives during his tenure
Special to MLB.com

NEW ORLEANS -- Major League Baseball Commissioner Rob Manfred became the 56th person enshrined into the Little League Hall of Excellence on Friday at the 27th Little League International Congress.

Since he became Commissioner in 2015, Manfred has propelled youth-oriented initiatives throughout his tenure, including events such as Play Ball, MLB Pitch, Hit & Run, the Jr. Home Run Derby, All-Star Week events and Little League Days at Major League ballparks.

NEW ORLEANS -- Major League Baseball Commissioner Rob Manfred became the 56th person enshrined into the Little League Hall of Excellence on Friday at the 27th Little League International Congress.

Since he became Commissioner in 2015, Manfred has propelled youth-oriented initiatives throughout his tenure, including events such as Play Ball, MLB Pitch, Hit & Run, the Jr. Home Run Derby, All-Star Week events and Little League Days at Major League ballparks.

"It really is humbling for me," said Manfred, a native of Rome, N.Y., and MLB's first Commissioner to have previously played Little League baseball. "The idea of being honored like this by an organization like this is really amazing for me."

"We're honored to make [Manfred] a member of the Hall," Little League president and CEO Stephen D. Keener said.

"No, it's me that's honored," Manfred said.

Manfred, who visited New Orleans' Urban Youth Academy earlier on Friday, has committed to the growth of youth baseball and softball domestically and internationally, as best represented by his implementation of MLB's Little League Classic, when the Pirates played the Cardinals in August during the Little League World Series at Bowman Field in Williamsport, Pa., home of the LLWS.

Video: Manfred enshrined in Little League Hall of Excellence

With Manfred's continued pursuit to expand and enhance youth programs, MLB and Little League's strategic partnership will host the MLB Little League Classic in 2018 with a game between the Phillies and Mets on Aug. 19.

"What you've done is, you've put renewed energy into what they're doing at the local level," Keener told Manfred.

On Friday, those efforts were celebrated in vibrant New Orleans fashion to affix the city's energy into the ceremony. Manfred's enshrinement featured a local gospel choir welcoming Manfred, Keener and ESPN's Karl Ravech -- the host of the network's flagship baseball show, "Baseball Tonight," who moderated a discussion among himself, Manfred and Keener -- and a marching band leading the convocation in a parade onto New Orleans' energized city streets.

"Since his election, one of Commissioner Manfred's primary focuses has been on the growth of baseball at the youth level," Ravech said.

Manfred's enshrinement, and the three-way discussion, followed an hour-long presentation of Little League's past four years since the Congress' last congregation in Minneapolis four years ago.

Christian Boutwell is a contributor to MLB.com.

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.