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MLB.com Columnist

Barry M. Bloom

D-backs dedicated to dressing kids like home team

PHOENIX -- In a major new initiative announced at their FanFest on Saturday at Chase Field, the D-backs are dressing local youth and Little League baseball players in the home colors of Sedona red, black, green, purple, white, you name it.

The $600,000 contribution, called "The D-backs Give Back Jersey Program," has the dual purpose of aiding financially strapped youth baseball leagues and spreading the brand of the local franchise, which is about to embark on its 17th season since expanding into the National League in 1998.

"In fairness, we and Tampa Bay are the newest franchises in baseball," managing general partner Ken Kendrick said. "We're just still teenagers in this game. We're growing up fast, though."

The Majestic jerseys and T-shirts will initially and immediately be donated to 33 leagues out of the 140 in the state. About 20,000 of the kids and their coaches in those leagues will all have caps and jerseys that will sport the D-backs' logo in some shape or form.

"It's all D-backs," club president Derrick Hall said. "Every player is going to be wearing D-backs. As a parent, if you go into my closet now, you'll find Rockies caps, Pirates caps, Yankees caps, caps from all the teams that my kid played on. No D-backs. We've heard now from the families, and they're saying, 'Thank you! All we want to buy anyway is D-backs gear.'"

The concept is to double the contribution next year and the year after that until every Little League and youth baseball or softball player in the state is wearing the D-backs' colors.

At the same time, it supports the playing of baseball in the state at the ground level.

"We want to rid these leagues of their single largest expense," Hall added. "Because of that expense, leagues are folding or they don't have enough registration to sustain them. There are a few leagues that were going under. We're keeping them afloat because of this. They're using the money they're saving, on fields, on equipment, reducing the fees so that kids can play. And now we've seen registration go way up."

The announcement was made on the big stage in front of the visitor's dugout at Chase as kids came out, sporting the array of new youth baseball wear. The Subway D-backs FanFest was hopping, playing to its largest audience. Hall estimated a crowd of 35,000 to 40,000, at least 10,000 more than last year's record number.

The D-backs are coming off back-to-back 81-81 seasons after winning the NL West title in 2011. But in the offseason, management has bulked up the club with such additions as slugger Mark Trumbo, reliever Addison Reed and the pending signing of Bronson Arroyo to bolster the starting rotation. The club plans to officially announce the Arroyo signing after he passes a physical early next week.

"We think we've put a good team together," Kendrick said. "We're in a very tough division. I think every club has improved itself. I think it's going to be a real battle."

Despite Arizona's second-place finish in 2013, 11 games behind the division-winning Dodgers, there was no lack of enthusiasm at the ballpark on Saturday. D-backs players interacted with fans, signing autographs, taking pictures and speaking on panels about how the team hopes to improve, beginning with the season-opening games against those archrival Dodgers in Australia on March 22-23.

The fans were loving it, just as the kids wearing their new jerseys and T-shirts were beaming.

This year, the leagues that will be receiving jerseys and caps are Ahwatukee, Alhambra, Arcadia, Cactus Little League, Cactus Youth Baseball, Casa Grande, Chandler American, Chandler National, Chandler Youth Baseball, Deer Valley, Desert Ridge, Diamondback Little League, Dynamite Cal Ripken, Gila River, Gilbert, Goodyear, High Desert, Holiday Park, Litchfield Park, McCormick, Old Scottsdale Youth Baseball, Queen Creek, Ramms, Salt River, Scottsdale Cal Ripken, Shaw Butte, South Scottsdale, Tempe Guadalupe, Tempe Rio, Tempe South and Wickenburg.

"The genesis of this is that both Derrick and I had kids who went through the Little League programs here, and none of them ever got to be a D-back," Kendrick said. "That's fine. But we thought, 'Why not let all of our Little League programs be D-backs?' We're hoping eventually this will simply become a state-wide program."

Barry M. Bloom is national reporter for MLB.com and writes an MLBlog, Boomskie on Baseball. Follow @boomskie on Twitter. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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