MILWAUKEE -- As the grass begins to turn green on baseball fields around southeastern Wisconsin, the odds increase that former big leaguer Larry Hisle is standing with a group of youngsters, encouraging them to play the game he loves.
Hisle is the Brewers' manager of youth outreach, making him the club's chief baseball advocate. The 67-year-old has been in the role since 2002, working one-on-one with kids, visiting schools across the state and promoting baseball in the city, often in conjunction with Major League Baseball's Reviving Baseball in the Inner City (RBI) program. It can be a difficult sell, Hisle said.
"In the suburbs, baseball is strong. In the city, not as much," Hisle said. "Kids have gravitated to basketball, primarily, and football. But there are things happening. At the Beckum-Stapleton Field [on Milwaukee's near north side], they're practicing, and many nights, I'll go over there to give some assistance.
"They're trying to revive baseball in the city, but they have their work cut out for them."
Hisle helps where he can, and so does the Brewers' community relations arm. In July, the team will host an RBI regional tournament with teams from throughout the Midwest, culminating with a championship game on the field at Miller Park on July 20. More than 600 kids, ages 9-18, participate in the RBI program in Milwaukee County alone, according to Brewers senior director of community relations Katina Shaw.
Throughout the summer, the club stages its Brewers Baseball Academy, weeklong camps throughout Wisconsin that cater to kids at every level of play. The camps are open to boys and girls aged 6-14, and top performers earn to trip to Miller Park for a "Champions Day" competition.
"When I have an opportunity to talk to kids, I tell them that I, as much as anyone, realizes the pull of basketball and other sports," Hisle said. "I accepted a basketball scholarship to Ohio State University a long, long time ago. But I tell kids that you can take the best basketball player that ever lived, be it Michael Jordan or LeBron James or Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, and baseball players love baseball just as much as those guys love basketball. You can do the same if you give it a chance and go out there and give it the time."
Hisle made that choice before the Phillies made him a second-round Draft pick in 1965. After nine big league seasons with the Phils, he signed with the Brewers in 1978 and was part of the team's turnaround, from a 95-loss team the year before to 93 wins. Hisle batted .290 with a career-high 34 home runs and 115 RBIs, good for third place in the American League MVP Award balloting.
A devastating shoulder injury suffered early in the 1979 season essentially ended Hisle's playing career, but he went on to have success as a hitting coach, winning back-to-back World Series with the Blue Jays in 1992 and '93.
Now Hisle is in the latest stage of his career, as a mentor to young players.
"There's a lot of work that has to be done, a ton of work," Hisle said. "I'd like for more Major League Baseball players to show up and encourage these kids. Baseball has so much to offer, if we can get to these kids at a young age."
Adam McCalvy is a reporter for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter at @AdamMcCalvy. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.