Kids will be stars during Play Ball Weekend

Each club planning special youth activities for inaugural event

Kids will be stars during Play Ball Weekend

Kids will run the bases again this weekend. In fact, they will run just about everything.

Major League Baseball on Monday announced the inaugural Play Ball Weekend, a league-wide effort by MLB and all 30 clubs to engage young baseball fans and celebrate youth participation in baseball and softball. The new initiative, which will make kids a starring attraction at ballgames along with 750 active players of note, will launch Saturday and Sunday in ballparks around the Majors.

Play Ball Weekend is an extension of the Play Ball initiative, which launched in 2015 as the sport's largest effort to encourage widespread participation in both formal and casual baseball and softball activities. Play Ball Weekend also is a symbolic recognition of what MLB clubs do year-round to support the growth of youth baseball and softball in their respective communities and beyond.

"Play Ball Weekend is a unified demonstration of the national pastime's commitment to engaging youth in all facets of our game," Commissioner Rob Manfred said. "This special program is an elevated step of the Play Ball initiative, which has been a tremendous vehicle to strengthen the ties with young people all across the United States and Canada. We thank our clubs for the outstanding experiences they will provide throughout Play Ball Weekend."

All 30 teams will feature a variety of customized and unique ballpark elements in support of Play Ball Weekend. At Wrigley Field, for example, local youth baseball and softball players will participate in a pregame cap exchange, rosin bag delivery and a "Play Ball" announcement before the Cubs-Pirates game next Sunday, taking the field before meeting Cubs players at each position. In Washington that day, the Nationals will welcome all area teams and leagues to the 12th annual Youth Baseball & Softball Day, and the many activities scheduled include a youth baseball and softball equipment drive in conjunction with MLB's Baseball Tomorrow Fund.

Want a plastic bat and ball set at Sunday's White Sox-Yankees game in the Bronx? The first 10,000 guests age 14 and under get those, and they will be handed out far beyond Yankee Stadium as well. Clubs will each contribute to the distribution of more than 320,000 of those sets throughout the U.S. and Canada, both in ballparks and at community events.

Clubs that are away are selecting another date for their Play Ball Weekend activities.

Manfred told a large audience at a Sports Matter event last month at the Tribeca Film Festival in New York that MLB saw youth participation numbers, at a grassroots level, go up in 2015 for the first time in a number of years.

"A lot of it's due to this Play Ball initiative," he said. "Kids can play baseball without nine kids in uniform on each team, an umpire and screaming parents. The idea of Play Ball is to get back to that simpler way, which is the way we really played as kids."

Expect to see more of that. In addition to ballpark events, many clubs will host specialized activities throughout their respective communities to encourage participation and highlight the fun of youth baseball and softball. Examples include players hosting clinics, playing opportunities at unique locations (i.e., an event at the beach in Los Angeles), surprise visits at youth fields and games, special contests for youth leagues and teams, kids-only press conferences and ticket and equipment donations.

Major League players, coaches and managers will wear specially made Play Ball T-shirts during batting practice and Play Ball patches on their uniforms during the weekend's games. Many home ballparks will feature Play Ball field stencils and will run in-ballpark public service announcements in support of Play Ball.

Organizations such as USA Baseball, ESPN, Little League International, Ripken Baseball and PONY Nationals will also support Play Ball Weekend. USA Baseball will promote the initiative to its membership and support MLB club activities with appearances by Team USA coaches and staff. ESPN and Little League will renew an effort that launched during the 2015 season to highlight Little League Baseball during Sunday Night Baseball and Baseball Tonight broadcasts. It starts Sunday at Dodger Stadium. Little League also will host Play Ball Weekend activities in Williamsport, Pa. Ripken Baseball and PONY will provide digital and social support.

Scotts and MLB will be joined by Hall of Famer and MLB Youth Programs Senior Advisor Cal Ripken Jr. in Ladson, S.C., to launch the first of six youth baseball and softball field refurbishments that will take place during the regular season under the "It's Good Out Here" field refurbishment program. As part of the renewed national partnership announced earlier this year, Scotts and MLB have pledged to refurbish youth fields around the country over the next three seasons.

Play Ball is a joint initiative between MLB and USA Baseball. In addition to encouraging participation in both formal and casual baseball activities, it aims to give kids the opportunity to enjoy the game in a fun environment by highlighting the many ways baseball can be played and providing memorable experiences; introducing young people to the sport who otherwise may not have the chance to experience it; and offering healthy and active lifestyle options where many of those opportunities are being offered less frequently.

MLB operates and supports a variety of youth-focused programs and events designed to provide opportunities to play baseball and softball while also fostering the future prosperity of the game. In addition to the Baseball Tomorrow Fund (a joint initiative with the MLB Players Association), these programs include Reviving Baseball in Inner Cities (RBI), MLB Urban Youth Academies, the Breakthrough Series and more.

Visit playball.org for more information, follow @PlayBall on Instagram and use #PlayBall on social media.

Mark Newman is enterprise editor of MLB.com. Read and join other baseball fans on his MLB.com community blog. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.