'Wanna Play?' offers fun for young fans

'Wanna Play?' offers fun for young fans

The annual Civil Rights Game -- the 2009 edition will be played Saturday night in Cincinnati -- observes and celebrates individuals who have championed racial equality.

As part of the occasion, people are also introduced to baseball's role in that mission.

In conjunction with this year's game, the launch of a new educational and interactive initiative by Major League Baseball is intended to bring baseball activities to the African-American community.

The inaugural "Wanna Play?" event will be held at Cincinnati's Fountain Square Park on Saturday from 2 p.m. ET until the 7 p.m. starting time of the Civil Rights Game between the White Sox and the Reds at Great American Ball Park.

"Wanna Play?" will be a free-admission part of the Youth Summit segment of the Gillette Civil Rights Game Weekend, and will feature a variety of baseball-related events and presentations by MLB luminaries.

"The formation of Wanna Play? will highlight everything that is great about Baseball -- camaraderie, athleticism and fun," said Jimmie Lee Solomon, MLB executive vice president of baseball operations. "The Gillette Civil Rights Game serves as a perfect backdrop as Major League Baseball takes this important step forward in expanding our relationship with the African-American community."

The objective is to expose inner-city kids to baseball, and whet their appetites for further participation on a greater level.

"With all the interactive activities, 'Wanna Play?' and the Youth Summit will be a fun way to expose every kid to baseball," said Reds second baseman Brandon Phillips, one of the featured stars of the program. "The Reds and Major League Baseball are putting together a great weekend of events surrounding the Civil Rights Game.

"While we look forward to teaching young fans about the game itself, it's also important they learn the significant role baseball played in the Civil Rights Movement."

Also scheduled to appear are current Red Jerry Hairston Jr., former Cincinnati outfielder Eric Davis and Harold Reynolds, the former MLB infielder and one of the studio hosts on the MLB Network.

Demonstrations by the current and former players will highlight the "Wanna Play?" agenda, which will also feature such activities as batting and pitching cages, base-running contests and whiffle ball games.

But it won't be all about fun and games. Reflective of the more profound overtones of the overall Youth Summit, an open-forum questions-and-answers session at 4 p.m. ET will address some of the more important messages of the Civil Rights Game weekend.

That discussion will feature Kyle Massey, star of "Cory in the House," "Zoey 101" star Christopher Massey, country artist Rissi Palmer, Josh Hutcherson, one of the stars of "Bridge to Terabithia," and Davis.

Tonm Singer is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.