MLB.com Columnist

Shannon Ford

Youngsters come out for Play Ball in Portland

MLB initiative encourages kids to learn the game

Youngsters come out for Play Ball in Portland

PORTLAND, Ore. -- Mayor Ted Wheeler opened Saturday's Play Ball event by declaring Oct. 7 an annual Play Ball Day in the community. While Portland may not be home to a Major League team, the city is rich in baseball history and the 100-plus kids who came out to play ball at Walker Stadium proved that the appetite for the game has never wavered.

"What's great about this event is that I think it takes away some of the structure or barriers that maybe are invisible and says come play baseball, come have fun, come learn some baseball activities and games. But don't worry if you don't have the right gear, you're on a team, you're in the right league, just come out and play and have fun," said Nova Newcomer, Executive Director of Friends of Baseball.

The event, an extension of Major League Baseball's Play Ball initiative, was hosted by the league in partnership with Friends of Baseball, the United States Conference of Mayors, the city of Portland and the Portland Pickles, all encouraging kids to learn the game by playing it at a grassroots level.

"This is one of the most important things I think we can do to help our kids and encourage them to put their phones down, get away from the Nintendos, get outside and participate in a family activity," Wheeler said. "Something that can be a lifelong passion, learn how to work together as a team and just have a good time."

That lifelong passion Wheeler alluded to is no stranger to former Major Leaguer and Portland native, Brian Hunter, who came out to take part in the baserunning, agility and home run derby stations.

"There is no better sport than baseball," said Hunter. "This has been a tradition not only within the United States, but around the world as well so I just love to see Portland and the Northwest stepping up and supporting it."

Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler at Play Ball Day on Saturday.Jonathan Ferrey

While Hunter's first memories were playing the game in his backyard, he spoke of the mentors who introduced him to similar clinics and inevitably sparked his love for America's pastime. Today, national programs like Play Ball and local organizations like Friends of Baseball, based in Portland, aim to teach positive life lessons through baseball. Friends of Baseball's mission is to "enhance children's lives through baseball's power to teach" and is brought to life through baseball-inspired academic and physical after-school and summer programs throughout the year.

"Baseball we think has unique lessons that teach kids about failure in a safe way, it allows them to make a mistake and come back and learn, it allows them to understand how to support a teammate … we all have to do that later in life," explained Newcomer.

Wheeler credits his Little League team for giving him the chance to be a part of something bigger than himself, and says that the life lessons one learns is what makes sports so important.

"We all know that no matter where you go and what you do in life, you're going to have to have those team-building skills, you've got to think beyond your own self, and sports is the best way, in my opinion, to do that," said Wheeler.

Shannon Ford is a reporter for MLB.com. Follow her on Twitter @Shannon__Ford. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.