When Major League Baseball commissioner Rob Manfred took office earlier this year, he said one of his biggest priorities was to get kids interested in baseball again.
A new program launched yesterday by MLB and USA Baseball is big step toward, hopefully, make that a reality.
On Thursday, Manfred was joined by current and former MLB players and 50 young ball players from New York and New Jersey to kick off the Play Ball youth baseball initiative. The event was held at Macombs Dam Park, a public ball field across the street from Yankee Stadium
Play Ball is geared toward getting more kids involved with baseball in all forms — no matter who they are, where they live, or if they’re playing with an actual baseball.
“We want to remind everyone that you can still play baseball without nine guys on a team, uniforms and umpires,” Manfred said.
The initiative takes a digital approach to bringing baseball to more kids. On the Play Ball website, kids and their parents can find information on local leagues, as well as coaching tips and other resources. There is also the free Play Ball Mobile Coaching App for Android devices for coaches organize team data, schedule practices, and create drills. (iOS compatibility is coming soon.)
“It’s great to see that they’re emphasizing cheaper alternatives for kids to play,” Bronx Rebels coach and mother of two players Nancy Maxwell said. She has coached her team to an undefeated record so far in the Parkchester RBI league.
To get the Play Ball started, several Yankees and Miami Marlins players took the field with the kids. (Miami was in New York for an interleague series against the Yankees.)
Marlins slugger Giancarlo Stanton, who leads baseball with 24 homers, naturally manned the home run derby station. Second baseman Dee Gordon, second in baseball with 22 steals, timed how fast kids could run around the bases.
Pedro, an 11-year-old from Newark, New Jersey, said baseball is his favorite sport. The life-long Yankees fan pointed to Yankee Stadium and said he will be playing there one day.
“I love baseball because it makes you feel confident,” Pedro said. “It’s not about winning or losing, it’s about having fun. And it’s a dream come true getting to play with big leaguers.”
Hernandez said former Yankee Derek Jeter was his favorite player. But Stanton is closing in after autographing his shirt.
Eleven-year-old Asim from Newark, New Jersey, played catch and got some tips from his favorite player, Alex Rodriguez.
“He taught me to throw the ball straight to the target,” Asim said. “I saw him play [against Baltimore] on Mother’s Day. I never thought I’d get to meet him!”
All-Star Yankees pitcher Dellin Betances grew up in New York City idolizing the Bronx Bombers. Betances said he sees himself in all the young players.
“It’s great I get to come out here and show these kids that dreams really do come true,” Betances said.
You can learn more about the Play Ball initiative at PlayBall.org
Photos: Matthew Ziegler/MLB Photos via Getty Images