MLB.com Columnist

Jim Callis

Play Ball event helps grow sport before Fall Stars Game

Play Ball event helps grow sport before Fall Stars Game

SURPRISE, Ariz. -- Showcasing some of baseball's brightest prospects wasn't the only item on the Fall Stars Game agenda Saturday. Before the Arizona Fall League's all-star contest, Major League Baseball and the AFL teamed up to stage a Play Ball event for local youngsters.

Part of Commissioner Rob Manfred's Play Ball initiative to grow the game by increasing youth participation, Saturday's event hosted 200 kids at the City of Surprise Youth Baseball Complex, located near Surprise Stadium, the site of the Fall Stars Game. They participated in five stations -- home run derby, baserunning, agility, ground-balls, popups -- designed to improve their skills in a fun manner.

Among the instructors were former Arizona Diamondbacks All-Star Junior Spivey and players from the Arizona team that won the Senior Division of the 2016 RBI World Series. Each participant received a plastic ball and bat to take after the event.

"As soon as they grabbed a bat or a ball or started running the bases, you could see the smiles on their faces," said Tony Reagins, MLB's senior vice president of youth programs. "We're trying to create that type of environment where they can have fun with their friends and spark some interest in baseball.

"One of the selling points of what we're trying to do is show them that you don't need a baseball diamond to play our game. It can be your front yard, back yard. It can be two kids, four kids. There are a lot of ways to play the game."

Reagins was the general manager of the Angels from 2007-11, during which time the club won a pair of division titles. He has overseen 250 clinics like the one held in Surprise, as well as larger endeavors such as PLAY BALL PARK at the All-Star Game in San Diego.

"This is different from what I used to do but the impact might be greater," Reagins said. "We're touching more kids, getting more kids involved in playing the game."

Jim Callis is a reporter for MLB.com. Follow @jimcallisMLB on Twitter. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.