D-backs expanding youth baseball programs

Club focused on engaging Arizona's young kids

D-backs expanding youth baseball programs

PHOENIX -- Other than winning baseball games, there is no greater priority for the D-backs than trying to grow the game of baseball among young people in the state of Arizona.

"Our biggest challenge in Major League Baseball is to make sure that we engage with the younger audience," D-backs team president and CEO Derrick Hall said. "We have to make sure they enjoy the sport, hopefully they participate in the sport and are fans for life."

The D-backs were one of the first teams to have a youth outreach program, and their Baseball Academy has around 2,500 kids go through camps and clinics around the state.

"We also have 500 amateur coaches that go through our training," Hall said. "We're constantly reaching out and engaging with young people and hopefully teaching them, or providing for them, or just being here as a resource for assistance."

Last year, the club began its "D-backs Give Back Youth Jersey Program," which came out of conversations with youth baseball directors, who told the team that their single biggest expense was uniforms.

So the D-backs wound up providing jerseys and caps for 20,000 kids in 2014, and this year, with corporate sponsors Fry's Food Stores, Tide and Western Refining, they expanded it to 35,000 kids.

"It's been a tremendous program, where in some cases we've saved leagues," Hall said. "Or they were able to waive entry fees, or in some cases they were able to build concession stands or redo their mounds or fields. It's been a great program for us. It's nice to see all the kids wearing the D-backs jerseys and seeing them parading around the stadium."

This year the D-backs started the "Chase Your Dreams" program. Together with Chase, the Arizona Diamondbacks Foundation committed $300,000 to revitalize struggling baseball and softball programs in Arizona.

Initially, 10 high schools from the Phoenix Union High School District were selected, and the program will provide financial support for equipment and supplies, facility improvements, coaches training, athlete training and field maintenance.

"We had our first two deliveries about two weeks ago," Hall said. "We took two high schools bats, balls, gloves, catching equipment, helmets, tees and nets, and watching the coaches and kids reaction was the real reward. We had every one of those high school players come up and shake our hands and thank us. A lot of them even expressed how baseball has kept them off the streets, has kept them focused on school. That was the most rewarding feedback we could get from them."

Steve Gilbert is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, Inside the D-backs, and follow him on Twitter @SteveGilbertMLB. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.