Also in attendance were Tony Reagins, MLB's senior vice president of youth programs, Chicago Cubs manager Joe Maddon and former Major League outfielders Billy Bean and Curtis Pride. Bean is now MLB's vice president of social responsibility and inclusion, while Pride serves as both MLB's ambassador of inclusion and Gallaudet University's head baseball coach. USA Baseball and USA Softball employees, along with the Gallaudet University baseball and softball teams, staffed the event, which is designed to highlight the variety of informal ways baseball and softball can be played.
• "Play Ball" event photo gallery
"All summer long we would play in the street," Maddon recalled of his childhood in Hazleton, Pa. "We broke windows, we got kicked out of the parking lots. And if you hit the ball over the awning at the Third Base Luncheonette, it was a home run. They don't do that anymore. Kids today don't realize it doesn't always have to be organized. It takes only two kids to play a game. I'm the Cardinals and you're the Pirates, and here we go."
Gallaudet is the world's leading university for the education and career development of deaf and hard-of-hearing students. Pride, who is hearing-impaired and played 421 games in the big leagues, stressed the idea that baseball is for everyone.
"It's all about inclusion and making sure everyone has the opportunity to play baseball, regardless of your disability or where you're from," Pride said. "Being here is a great experience, to be able to be a mentor to these kids who don't have a lot of experience playing baseball. It's awesome to see the look on their faces, the excitement and the pure joy. It's very rewarding."
Most children participating in the event had played organized baseball or softball before, but many were still new to the game. All took home their choice of either a plastic or foam bat-and-ball set so they can continue to "Play Ball."
"I wanted my son exposed to a different environment," said Nakeda Gilbert of her son Nekhi, 11, of Ward 7's Benning Terrace Soldiers. "This was his first year playing baseball and they won the championship in their division, but he has not been exposed to a lot of baseball. It's great for him to be around the other kids and get a chance to meet and interact with these baseball stars."
Gilbert and the other children rotated through 90 minutes of baseball stations featuring wiffle ball, agility ladders and baserunning and fielding drills, while receiving pointers from Maddon, Baker, Bean and Pride.
"It's all happiness," Bean said. "Baseball is big business. It gets very serious and you see lots of up and downs and the game can be tough at times. But here, we are just bringing joy to families and bringing people together in a safe environment and there is so much to build upon."
"Play Ball" is a joint initiative between MLB, USA Baseball and USA Softball. In addition to encouraging participation in both formal and casual baseball activities, "Play Ball" aims to give kids the opportunity to enjoy the game in a fun environment by showcasing the many ways baseball can be played and providing memorable experiences.
Visit PlayBall.org for youth-oriented content, including baseball trivia and quizzes, video highlights from MLB games, social media content, photos and a "PlayBall Near You" interactive map that locates local community leagues. The site also features access to video podcasts and highlights from MLB Network's youth-focused show "Play Ball," which features interviews and on-field demonstrations with top players throughout the Major Leagues.