Another day of sun at Play Ball event in LA

Another day of sun at Play Ball event in LA

LOS ANGELES -- It was the ultimate Southern California field trip.

Students from three Los Angeles-area elementary schools were bused into downtown on Monday afternoon for an event put on by Major League Baseball's Play Ball initiative.

The two-hour baseball session, presented in conjunction with the Dodgers and the Dodgers Foundation, took place on a patch of grass at Grand Park, right across from City Hall.

It got kids out in the spring sunshine a few hours before the first pitch of the World Baseball Classic semifinals, mere miles away at Dodger Stadium. In other words, it was the perfect time and place for one of MLB's many Play Ball events.

"What we've found is that when kids really come into contact with our game, their immediate reaction is a smile," said Tony Reagins, MLB 's senior vice president for youth programs.

"You put a bat and a ball in their hands, that's what's going to happen. They're going to smile. So hopefully we can recreate that experience over and over again, and these people will become fans for the long-term."

In addition to Reagins, the 150 children were also addressed by Dodgers president and CEO Stan Kasten, Los Angeles city council president Herb Wesson and Hilda Solis, the United States Secretary of Labor who currently serves as a member of the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors. Many more executives from MLB and the Dodgers were in attendance.

And then it was time for fun.

The kids played in a Dodgers bouncy house and were ushered from baseball skills stations with the help of former Dodgers pitcher Dennis Powell and representatives from USA Baseball and USA Softball.

There was a Wiffle ball home run derby, a baserunning station, a bat and ball station, an area for grounders and popups and an agility test course. The children were given Dodgers hats, Play Ball T-shirts, wristbands and a bat and ball set to take home.

"When we came in [to ownership] in 2012, one of our three pillars was reaching out to the community, doing more events like this," Kasten said. "So our clinics, our appearances, our speeches and our Dreamfields are all part of that program. When the new Commissioner came in two years ago, that was a critical element of his campaign: the Play Ball initiative getting more kids involved, whether it's through the RBI programs or just every team being involved with academies.

"Getting the next generation prepared to continue to support us like all the last generations have."

The Play Ball initiative, launched in 2015 by MLB in conjunction with USA Baseball and USA Softball, drops in on cities all over the country to run programs just like the one at Grand Park on Monday. Reagins estimates that there have been at least 250 such events in the last calendar year alone.

It's not going to slow down anytime soon, and as long as MLB is involved, its clubs will be happy to join in.

"We have a lot invested in the next generation of baseball fans," Kasten said. "When we give them an opportunity to support us, they're always there for us. So it was a real thrill for me to be here today."

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