Kids treated to fun during Play Ball Weekend

Youth baseball players participate in on-field activities

Kids treated to fun during Play Ball Weekend

SEATTLE -- Before the Mariners played ball on Sunday, they took part in Major League Baseball's exciting new initiative, Play Ball Weekend.

The league-wide effort, in conjunction with USA Baseball, to engage young baseball fans and celebrate youth participation in baseball and softball descended upon Seattle, where 8,500 Little Leaguers in team uniforms circled the field prior to first pitch between the Mariners and Angels.

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To help kick things off, earlier in the week, Mariners players Nelson Cruz, Nathan Karns and Leonys Martin paid a surprise visit to Little Leaguers in the Seattle area. The players posed for photos, signed autographs, played catch with some of the youngsters and interacted with their parents.

"This is where it all started for me," Karns told an appreciative dad. "This is where it starts."

That is the main theme behind Play Ball Weekend, which included plenty of exciting activities at Safeco. All kids 14 and younger received a playground bat and ball set on Sunday, and members of teams from the Seattle Reviving Baseball in Inner Cities (RBI) program at the Smilow Rainier Vista Boys & Girls Club, Baseball Beyond Borders, South Highline American Little League and the West Seattle Peaches All-Girls Coach-Pitch team were on the first and third baselines with Mariners and Angels players during the National Anthem.

Also, two kids were chosen at random from the Little League parade to present lineup cards with coaches before the game began, and Major League players, coaches and managers all wore specially designed Play Ball T-shirts during batting practice and Play Ball patches on their uniforms during the game.

But it won't end this weekend. This year, the Mariners have a brand new Kids Club, which includes a drawstring backpack, official newsletter, discount offers and more -- all for free, and the new Kids Corner at Safeco Field features free timed running, hitting and pitching challenges and photo opportunities for kids 14 and under.

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 is a unified demonstration of the National Pastime's commitment to engaging youth in all facets of our game," MLB 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."

Doug Miller is a reporter for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter @DougMillerMLB. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.