SALT LAKE CITY — "Play ball!" That refrain that has echoed in ballparks, sand lots, grassy fields and concrete-covered cul de sacs has found new meaning, thanks to a recent partnership between Major and Minor League Baseball. The "Play Ball Initiative," per MLB, is called "the sport's largest collective effort to encourage young people to participate in baseball or softball-related activities.”
Among the ways youth participation is accomplished is the generous donation of equipment to leagues across the country, as well as the organizing of various weekend events promoting casual ball play.
Those efforts were on display at Smith’s Ballpark Saturday, with over 500 kids put through a variety of baseball and softball activities, under the guidance of Bees players, as well as some Utes, Weber State Wildcats and Utah high school athletes.
Also in attendance was a who’s who of dignitaries, from local elected officials such as Salt Lake City Mayor Jackie Biskupski, to some of the power brokers in baseball, like Pat O’Conner (president and CEO of MiLB). Even former All-Star catcher and Taylorsville High product John Buck made an appearance to illustrate the importance of youth baseball in America.
“This is what MLB and MiLB are all about,” said O’Conner. “Baseball has, for centuries, healed communities. This (initiative) is an opportunity to bring communities and people together. Our youth represent the future of baseball and, more importantly, the future of our country.”
Biskupski, a member of the U.S. Conference of Mayors, added, “we want to promote the athleticism and teamwork that comes from being an athlete. We want children to learn how to overcome failure to achieve success, to acquire a work ethic. That is what baseball and softball help us learn.”
The Play Ball Initiative has already had a profound impact across the country, providing the means and opportunity for children to play "America’s favorite pastime." Nowhere has that impact been felt more than in Salt Lake’s Rose Park Little League.
Thanks to its partnership with the Bees, Rose Park has seen a boom in membership, with over 200 kids participating in Little League baseball. But the impact of the initiative goes well beyond numbers.
“It has really given us the supplies needed to lower prices and get more kids involved,” said Rose Park Little League vice president Paul Welsh. “More importantly, it gives the kids a safe place to come and play. The impact on the community has been phenomenal. The excitement and support from parents and the community has been overwhelming. People are excited about baseball.”
Not only that, but according to Welsh, the success of Rose Park is certain to have an impact on other now defunct leagues.
“We used to have leagues at others places, like Sherwood Park,” said Welsh. “We are going to start those programs up again now that we have the support of MLB and the Bees.”
While still in its infancy, the program was started by MLB in 2015, and MiLB only recently became involved.
“We will produce a few ballplayers out of this group (of kids),” O’Conner said. “More importantly, we are going to produce better brothers and sisters, better husbands and wives, better fathers and mothers. We will get a few more baseball fans, which is great, but it is the lifelong memories that will matter most. That is why we are here.”
In addition to the morning fun, the Bees hosted the Isotopes Saturday night. Backed by four solo home runs, including two by Noel Cuevas, Albuquerque claimed a 4-2 victory.
Isotopes — 4
Bees — 2
In short: Noel Cuevas hit two solo shots, and the Isotopes defeated the Bees.
Up next: Albuquerque LHP Harrison Musgrave (1-1, 7.39) at Salt Lake RHP Doug Fister (0-0, 1.80), Sunday, 1:05 p.m.