Dodgers participate in Play Ball Weekend event with Boys & Girls Club of Venice
By Austin Laymance
LOS ANGELES -- Baseball can be played anywhere, even the beach.
That was the message Dodgers stars Yasiel Puig and Justin Turner helped relay to a group of 60 kids from the Boys & Girls Club of Venice on Saturday morning, when they arrived at Venice Beach for a surprise baseball play date before that night's game against the Cardinals.
Puig and Turner, position players by trade, stepped out of their element a bit, pitching to the kids in two casual games no more than 20 yards from the surf. The big leaguers offered tips, words of encouragement and some playful ribbing.
"I think I had more fun than some of them did," said Turner, who often played different forms of baseball on the beach as a kid growing up in Southern California. "I think the message here is to encourage kids to get outside and be active. Maybe in the future, they will organize some little games like this on their own so they can come out and get out of the house, get out from behind the computer screen and the iPad."
Not long after Puig and Turner set foot on the sand, they were surrounded by youngsters who seemed more than thrilled to be in the presence of a couple of Dodgers cult heroes.
"I think they were pretty excited," Turner said. "Some of them were like, 'I know you, I know what position you play, I saw you play Thursday night.' And that's the cool part, to be recognized by them. Hopefully, it motivates some to come back and get out on their own and just be active."
After Puig and Turner pitched to the kids for about 25 minutes, Turner hustled over to Puig's group and announced he would pinch-hit. As the kids watched in awe, Turner blasted an 0-2 offering from Puig to straightaway center, much to the delight of the onlookers.
"I was nervous when I pinch-hit," Turner admitted. "I actually swung and foul-tipped one and I'm like, 'Oh man, if I strike out here this isn't going to be good.'"
Saturday's beach activities, hosted by the Dodgers and the Los Angeles Dodgers Foundation, were part of the inaugural Play Ball Weekend, a league-wide effort by Major League Baseball and all 30 clubs to engage youth baseball fans and celebrate the continued support of youth participation in baseball and softball.
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.
One of the key messages of Play Ball is that baseball doesn't have to be an organized activity. It can be simple and can be enjoyed in almost any setting.
The kids used plastic bats and balls. They didn't need gloves to have fun, either. There were plastic cones marking foul lines and mats for bases.
"What we're really trying to establish with the Play Ball initiative is to engage kids and present baseball in a way that is fun," said Tony Reagins, MLB's senior vice president of youth programs, at a recent Play Ball event at MLB's Urban Youth Academy in Compton. "It's just getting kids out there and playing ball in its simplest form, letting them know that you don't need 18 players, an umpire or a field to engage in the game."
It certainly worked on this day.
After Puig and Turner posed for pictures, took selfies and signed autographs, each boy and girl received their own plastic bat and ball, a Dodgers hat and tickets to the May 23 game against the Reds. Within minutes, the kids had removed the packaging from the bats and balls and spread out along the sand to play their own games.
Austin Laymance is a reporter for MLB.com based in Los Angeles. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.