Play Ball initiative celebrated in St. Pete

Play Ball initiative celebrated in St. Pete

ST. PETERSBURG -- St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman celebrated the game of baseball Monday at Huggins-Stengel Field as part of the United States Conference of Mayors (USCM) support of Major League Baseball's Play Ball initiative, which focuses on the fun nature of baseball and encourages widespread participation in related activities.

The St. Petersburg City Council, city employees and St. Petersburg's Teen Arts, Sports and Cultural Opportunities (TASCO) joined Kriseman to organize a game of mushball with kids from various community centers across the area.

After a five-inning game, the Wildcats ended up edging out the Sharks, 7-4, but Monday's contest was less about winning and more about embracing the game of baseball as a whole.

"The game [of baseball] teaches life lessons," Kriseman said. "You learn sportsmanship. It's about teamwork, it's about self-confidence, and it's about physical fitness and getting healthy. But mostly, it's about the love of the game. This is reintroducing kids, who may not otherwise be out playing, to the game and for them to see that this is a game that you don't have to have a lot money to play, so it's accessible to everybody."

During August, or "Play Ball Month," mayors from around the country are implementing the initiative throughout cities with the goal of strengthening the connection between communities and America's national pastime.

Mayors across the U.S. are hosting similar activities to engage citizens, families and city departments to organize individual and community events (such as playing catch, running bases in the backyard, family gatherings, park and recreation activities, business-supported activities, etc.). These activities will be focused on strengthening bonds between families and communities through baseball-related activities.

"It was good to see everybody out playing baseball," Kriseman said. "We've got a great team here in St. Pete with the Rays. They are really supportive with the community and we need to start building a fan base up at this age so that they become lifelong fans."

After a successful inaugural contest, Kriseman is hoping that this mushball competition can become an annual tradition.

"The kids were great and it was a lot of fun," Kriseman said. "We need to do this every year."

Play Ball comes to Northern Virginia

The Play Ball initiative came to Alexandria, Va., on Monday, enriching an urban community nestled just nine miles away from Nationals Park. Approximately 350 kids from Alexandria were invited out to Lenny Harris Memorial Fields at Braddock Park to participate in baseball activities with an official seal.

The city of Alexandria's Recreation Department has instituted two summer programs -- Power On and Power Up -- to benefit the youth of the area, and many of those children were on hand Monday.

Several of the children, who range in age from first grade all the way through 10th, have participated in local Little Leagues, Fastpitch Softball Leagues and T-Ball and Coach Pitch Baseball Leagues, but the city was thrilled to welcome them all under one banner to celebrate the national pastime.

"Alexandria is a caring community and the opportunity to partner with MLB's Play Ball campaign is both inspiring and rewarding," said Alexandria Mayor William D. Euille. "As mayor, I am excited about the prospects of our youth connecting with America's pastime sport, in an effort to promote physical fitness, individual skills, teamwork and fun, where everyone is a winner."

There are three open baseball diamonds and a rectangular field at Braddock Park, and Euille invited some local dignitaries to be part of the proceedings. Chris Williams, the baseball coach at T.C. Williams High School, was in attendance, and so were members of the Class A Potomac Nationals.

The Nationals, an affiliate of the Major League club in Washington, sent mascot Uncle Slam to pose for pictures with the children. The team's parent club also provided sets of ticket vouchers, player bobblehead figures and baseball trivia books to be distributed to the kids who participated in the event.

Several stations were set up for the kids to play through, including the Wiffle Ball Wham!, the Beach Ball Blast & Baseball Toss, the Hit, Run, Score Relays and the MLB Express Relays. Each of those stations allowed the kids to compete for fun but also to practice the fundamentals of the game.

Alexandria also set up a dunk tank and other baseball-related inflatables to provide more activities for the assembled guests. And each of the children received a sportsmanship wrist band from the Recreation Department and a chance to win prizes from the Potomac and Washington Nationals.

Troy Provost-Heron is an associate reporter for Additional reporting by Spencer Fordin. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.