Manfred to youth: Follow baseball to college

Manfred to youth: Follow baseball to college

VERO BEACH, Fla. -- Nolan Brown hopes to one day attend college near his hometown of Long Beach, Calif. But the 16-year-old might not be able to do so without baseball.

"For me, I'm trying to go to college and graduate from college. Baseball is a big part of that," he said. "I'm trying to use baseball to help me get through college."

Brown was one of hundreds of young baseball players Major League Baseball Commissioner Rob Manfred addressed at the Elite Development Invitational in Vero Beach, Fla., Wednesday afternoon.

Now in its second year, the EDI is a two-week instruction event that offers hundreds of players from across the country, ages 12-17, an opportunity to develop their skills with former Major Leaguers in a Spring Training-type atmosphere on the fields of Historic Dodgertown. Instructors include retired players like David Justice, Marquis Grissom, Marvin Freeman and Tye Waller.

One key point Manfred emphasized Wednesday was for players to use the sport as a gateway to higher learning.

"Some of you may walk up to a different podium in a few years, have me shake your hands as you're announced as a drafted player to Major League Baseball," Manfred told the group. "For some of you, baseball can open a door to college. Even if you're not going to be a big league player, that opportunity to get into college and get into a better college than you might be able to otherwise because you can play this game is really, really important."

Brown, who got a chance to meet Manfred and snapped a picture with him, couldn't have agreed more with the sentiment. He said it was refreshing to hear that from a voice like Manfred's.

"It shows you that he really cares about the youth and expanding the game to all different cultures and trying to expand the game as much as possible to all," Brown said.

Manfred, who is the only Commissioner to have played Little League baseball growing up, hopes the EDI is also a way to grow the sport among teenagers. He said there is currently a participation drop-off in that age group.

"If our youth programs can keep kids playing into their high school years, it will improve the quality of college baseball," he said. "But more importantly it will open doors for kids to play in college."

Among other items Manfred touched on were the importance of the Hall of Fame and baseball's history, and the significance of the Fort Bragg game in paying tribute to the nation's troops earlier this month. He then took questions from the players.

Before Manfred stepped down from the podium to talk to and take pictures with them, one player asked him what his favorite part of his job is.

"Days like today are actually my very favorite part of the job," he answered. "When I started, I think the biggest idea that I had was about kids. I think the highest obligation that I feel and the guys that work with me feel is to make sure that we pass on to the next generation of young people the love of the game that we all had. When I get an opportunity to be out with young people, I get a real charge out of it, and it usually makes for a good day."

Patrick Pinak is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.