In support of PLAY BALL WEEKEND, MLB Clubs will host customized and unique activities to engage young people throughout the weekend and highlight the fun of youth baseball and softball. Many MLB Clubs will host skills and physical fitness clinics as well as surprise 'takeovers' of youth baseball & softball games or practices featuring appearances by Major League players, alumni, mascots, PA announcers and more. Activities in ballparks will include kids participating in special press conferences, pregame meet & greets and catches with players, ceremonial first pitches, public address duties, lineup card exchanges, taking the field with players, postgame running the bases, and more. Other examples of Club activation include Scotts MLB Pitch, Hit & Run and Jr. Home Run Derby competitions. Minor League Clubs will host similar activities in their ballparks and communities.
MLB has provided Clubs with more than 300,000 youth plastic bat & ball sets to distribute in both ballparks and at community events. In recognition of the new 'PLAY BALL' partnership with Minor League Baseball, MLB also will host the PLAY BALL WEEKEND launch event with MiLB, the Oklahoma City Dodgers (Triple-A Affiliate of the Los Angeles Dodgers), USA Softball and the Mayor's Office of Oklahoma City at Chickasaw Bricktown Ballpark on Friday, June 2.
Major League players, coaches and managers will wear PLAY BALL WEEKEND patches on their uniforms during the weekend's games. Additionally, players on home Clubs will wear custom T-shirts during batting practice on the date of their Club's activations, including dates beyond the official PLAY BALL WEEKEND. The shirts will reflect fun jargon specific to either hitting or pitching. Many home ballparks will also feature PLAY BALL field stencils and run in-ballpark public service announcements in support of the PLAY BALL initiative and other youth outreach programs by Clubs.
PLAY BALL WEEKEND will be bolstered by a national television and online advertising campaign developed by Anomaly, MLB's creative agency, and supported by Chevrolet, an active sponsor of the PLAY BALL initiative. The spot, which can be viewed HERE, highlights kids having fun games of catch in various different environments and settings, including one scene of a young boy having a catch with Los Angeles Angels All-Star center fielder Mike Trout at Angel Stadium. The spot will be distributed on MLB Advanced Media's digital/social media platforms and air during national broadcasts on ESPN, MLB Network, TBS, FOX Sports and FS1.
MLB Network will feature highlights from Play Ball Weekend in its studio programming on June 3 and 4, and it will televise a special edition of Play Ball, the weekly player interview and demonstration show for kids, on Saturday, June 17 at 10:00 a.m. ET that will include a complete recap of Play Ball Weekend activities. MLB.com and MLB's official social media accounts, including the Play Ball accounts, will have complete coverage of the PLAY BALL WEEKEND events featuring original content and multimedia offerings.
USA Baseball, USA Softball, ESPN, FOX Sports and Little League International also will support PLAY BALL WEEKEND. USA Baseball and USA Softball will promote the initiative to its membership and support Club activations with appearances by coaches and staff. ESPN and Little League will renew an effort, which ran during the 2015 and 2016 Championship Seasons, to highlight Little League Baseball during Sunday Night Baseball and Baseball Tonight broadcasts. The first activation of the 2017 campaign will be during PLAY BALL WEEKEND on Sunday, June 4 with Freeport Little League (Freeport, Ill.) at their 'Little Cubs Field.' Little League International also will host PLAY BALL WEEKEND activities at the Little League International Complex in South Williamsport, Pennsylvania on Sunday, June 4.
In 2015, Major League Baseball launched the "PLAY BALL" initiative 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 MLB Championship Season and into the Postseason and 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, Minor League Baseball, the U.S. Conference of Mayors, and MLB Corporate Partners Chevrolet, Scotts and Nathan's Famous. In 2016, MLB Network launched Play Ball, a weekly player interview and demonstration show geared toward kids. In the program, MLB stars, including Bryce Harper, Dexter Fowler, Francisco Lindor and Anthony Rizzo, have discussed their experiences reaching the Major Leagues and shared tips in one-on-one demonstrations and conversations with MLB Network analysts. Currently in its second season, Play Ball is available on multiple platforms, including MLB Network, MLB At Bat, MLB.com and Facebook.
On May 18, MLB announced that baseball and softball combined to rank as the most participated team sports in the United States in 2016 (25 million participants), according to 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 total casual participants).
In August, MLB and the MLBPA will host the "MLB Little League Classic" between the Pittsburgh Pirates and St. Louis Cardinals at a renovated BB&T Ballpark at Historic Bowman Field, the home of the Short Season-A™ Williamsport Crosscutters of the New York-Penn League.
Major League Baseball operates and supports a variety of youth-focused programs and events designed to provide opportunities to play baseball and softball while also fostering the future prosperity of the game. These programs include Reviving Baseball in Inner Cities (RBI), MLB Youth Academies, the Baseball Tomorrow Fund (a joint initiative with the MLBPA), Amateur Development Camps (Breakthrough Series, DREAM Series, Elite Development Invitational) and skills competitions (Scotts MLB Pitch, Hit & Run and Jr. Home Run Derby).