MiLB partners with MLB for Play Ball initiative

Teams across Majors, Minors to host events for community, youth

MiLB partners with MLB for Play Ball initiative

Major League Baseball announced Monday that Minor League Baseball and its clubs are joining in on the Play Ball initiative, meaning further exponential growth is likely, following Thursday's revelation that baseball and softball combined to rank as the most-participated team sport in the U.S. in 2016, with 25 million participants.

MiLB has become an official partner of the Play Ball initiative, the sport's largest collective effort to encourage young people to participate in baseball- or softball-related activities. Through this partnership, MiLB will support the second annual Play Ball Weekend, including spearheading the effort's official launch with the Triple-A Oklahoma City Dodgers on June 2, as well as Play Ball Summer, with the U.S. Conference of Mayors, in hosting more than 200 youth- and community-focused events throughout the U.S. and Puerto Rico from June to August.

"We are thrilled to welcome Minor League Baseball and its 160 clubs as official supporters of the Play Ball initiative," said Tony Reagins, MLB's senior vice president of youth programs. "As one of the most family-friendly experiences in professional sports, Minor League clubs are natural partners in this effort, especially in parallel to the fun and creative ways they engage their millions of fans. This is an important step toward reaching more young people in communities outside our direct Major League markets."

"Through Minor League Baseball's involvement in Play Ball, our organization and its 160 clubs will play a central role in growing the great game of baseball for many years to come," said Minor League Baseball president and CEO Pat O'Conner. "MiLB's participation in Play Ball Weekend further reinforces our role as a community champion, where we can pass our love for the game on to the next generation and build a foundation at an early age. Minor League Baseball is proud to collaborate with our partners at Major League Baseball on this important and timely initiative."

No North American sport comes close to matching the per-capita reach of MLB and MiLB combined in terms of geography, with those advantages dating back more than a century in towns large and small. This is a new and exciting way of combining to reach kids, and the potential for vastly increased participation can now be realized as well.

MiLB is joining the second annual Play Ball Weekend to make the campaign both an MLB- and MiLB-wide effort to engage young baseball fans, and celebrate the continued support of youth participation in baseball and softball. Play Ball Weekend is scheduled for June 3-4, but Major and Minor League clubs not at home that weekend will host activities at another date.

On June 2, the Oklahoma City Dodgers will help launch the effort at Chickasaw Bricktown Ballpark by hosting hundreds of kids, along with MLB and MiLB representatives, in a Play Ball event that will highlight the fun, casual ways to play baseball and softball.

MiLB will also once again support Play Ball Summer, the third annual initiative, with the U.S. Conference of Mayors, to hold more than 200 youth- and community-focused Play Ball events throughout the U.S. and Puerto Rico. Where appropriate, MiLB clubs will link with mayors to participate or help host these events.

MiLB will have a presence at the 2017 MLB All-Star Game presented by MasterCard in Miami. MiLB representatives and players participating in the SiriusXM All-Star Futures Game will attend various components of Play Ball Park, an outdoor space for programming partners of MLB to provide fun, engaging and educational activities for youth baseball and softball players and their families, all in the backdrop of the Midsummer Classic.

MLB will also commemorate this partnership by hosting a special Play Ball event on June 10 at Smith's Ballpark in Salt Lake City, the home of the Angels' Triple-A affiliate, the Bees. In August, MLB and the MLB Players Association will host the MLB Little League Classic between the Pirates and Cardinals at a renovated BB&T Ballpark at Historic Bowman Field, the home of the Short-Season Class A Williamsport Crosscutters of the New York-Penn League.

MLB launched the Play Ball initiative in 2015 as the sport's largest collective effort to encourage young people to participate in baseball- or softball-related activities, including formal leagues, special events and casual forms of play. Play Ball events have become MLB's signature youth engagement activity during the professional and amateur baseball and softball calendar, particularly in connection with key dates from Spring Training through the World Series. Play Ball aims to highlight the fun and community-focused natures of the game at the Major League, professional, amateur and youth levels.

In addition to flagship partnerships with USA Baseball and USA Softball, Play Ball is also supported by all 30 MLB clubs, the U.S. Conference of Mayors and MLB corporate partners Chevrolet, Scotts and Nathan's Famous.

Thursday's announcement of the combined 25 million participants was based on the annual Topline Participation Report produced by the Sports & Fitness Industry Association (SFIA). Overall baseball participation increased by 7.7 percent, and slow-pitch softball participation increased by 8.1 percent in 2016, with casual participation in both baseball and slow-pitch softball showing the highest growth. In 2016, casual participation in baseball rose by 18.1 percent, and slow-pitch softball increased by 12.4 percent. Casual participation in baseball and slow-pitch softball is up 34 percent over the last five years. When combined, baseball and softball (fast- and slow-pitch) have more casual participants than any other sport (10.25 million).

Mark Newman is enterprise editor of MLB.com and a baseball writer since 1990. Follow him @Marathoner and read and join other baseball fans on his MLB.com/blogs hub. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.