Kids get into swing of Play Ball with Crew

Milwaukee elementary school students encouraged to experience game in many ways

Kids get into swing of Play Ball with Crew

MILWAUKEE -- Brewers first baseman Chris Carter was talking about his own early memories of baseball when a student at Milwaukee's Brown Street Academy swung by for an unannounced hug.

"I went to his game," she pointed out. "I saw him hit three home runs against the Angels."

Technically, Carter only hit two home runs on May 3, though both were important in a 5-4 victory over Los Angeles at Miller Park.

"It's a cool feeling when kids recognize you like that and are paying attention to the games that we play," Carter said. "It's pretty awesome."

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Carter was one of three Brewers players on hand Friday afternoon, serving as batting-practice instructors to small groups of elementary school students. The kids had new tools to work with -- the appearance was part of the Play Ball Weekend initiative in all Major League cities, which included the donation of a plastic bat and ball to every Milwaukee Public School child between kindergarten and second grade.

More than 20,000 sets were to be distributed to MPS schools, and each school also received a shipment of books covering topics from Jackie Robinson to Hank the Ballpark Pup.

"It really is a family tradition," said Darienne Driver, superintendent of Milwaukee Public Schools. "Just think about all the families that are going to be able to share this great tradition to their loved ones, to their brothers and sisters."

Driver, a native of Virginia, herself played softball in middle school, and she said her great uncle, Eugene Lawrence, had a tryout with the Baltimore Orioles in the infant days of MLB integration.

"Not only are we committed to making sure our young people have access to sports and programming, but also [benefit from] the books really capturing the history and making sure our libraries are rich with the history of baseball, the experience of baseball," she said.

MLB and USA Baseball launched Play Ball as the sport's largest effort to encourage widespread participation in both formal and informal baseball activities. The goal of the program is to give kids the opportunity to enjoy the game in a fun environment by highlighting the many ways baseball can be played and introduce kids to the sport who otherwise may have not had the chance to experience it.

"We had a great neighborhood [growing up]," said Brewers relief pitcher Chris Capuano, addressing the students. "We would invent different games. We played Wiffle ball, we played pickle. Today, when there are so many people staying inside playing video games, I think it's really important you guys get outside and play with your friends. That's how I first started to love the game and develop the skills that allowed me to become a Major League Baseball player."

The team will continue to celebrate Play Ball Weekend with an on-field ceremony before Saturday's contest against the San Diego Padres. Nine players from the Milwaukee RBI program will be invited onto the field, and they will receive baseball caps donned by the pro players.

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"You sometimes hear how tough it is for kids to play," said Brewers chief operating officer Rick Schlesinger. "You need a field. You need 18 players, or 20 players if you're using the DH. You need gloves, you need baseballs, you needs helmets, you need catching gear. But we're going to simplify things today."

Outfielder Alex Presley and former Brewers great Larry Hisle, who is now the team's manager of youth outreach, were also on hand to give pointers and toss pitches, as were the Racing Sausages -- perhaps the biggest stars of the show to the students.

JR Radcliffe is a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.