Phillies' Play Ball youth clinics grow in 2nd year
Ballgirls, RBI alumni hope to spark interest in baseball, softball
By Ben Harris
PHILADELPHIA -- Maybe the only people who had a better time than the participants in Saturday's Play Ball clinics at the Phillies MLB Urban Youth Academy fields were the instructors who passed on the initiative's values and goals.
Two former Philadelphia Reviving Baseball in Inner Cities (RBI) program players with college baseball experience were among the coaches at the baseball clinic, examples of the program's success stories. On the softball fields, the Phillies Ballgirls became impromptu celebrities among the younger girls they mentored.
"A big part of being a ballgirl is being that female role model for the younger kids and letting them know that softball is important and it should be important. That's why we're here," said Allison Waddington, a former softball player at La Salle University and an instructor at the softball clinic that drew around 170 players to Franklin Delano Roosevelt Park. Later Saturday night at Citizens Bank Park was the 13th annual Youth Softball Celebration.
In a five-minute conversation, she was asked for autographs from youth softball players four times.
The softball clinic grew in its second year. Phillies director of youth baseball development Jon Joaquin said that in the future, 300 total participants in the baseball and softball clinics would be "an awesome number."
Around 250 turned out Saturday.
Demetrius Isaac, a baseball player at Chestnut Hill College and a coach at the baseball clinic, said he feeds off the energy the kids displayed. He played RBI throughout his high school career.
"It was a blast," he said of playing RBI. "It changed my whole perspective on baseball."
The Play Ball initiative encourages all forms of baseball play, regardless of level or structure of competition. Isaac knows kids are impressionable at a young age, and with outreach like this, many could find they really like baseball.
"Kids at this age really don't know what they want to do yet," Isaac said. "If they just come out and we can show that baseball is a good time and you can have fun playing baseball, maybe they'll pick it up and want to play more."
The second annual Play Ball Weekend features a variety of youth engagement activities by nearly 200 Major League and Minor League clubs to highlight the fun of youth baseball and softball. It is a complementary program of the Play Ball initiative, designed by MLB to celebrate youth baseball and softball participation. MLB has provided clubs with more than 300,000 youth plastic bat and ball sets to distribute in both ballparks and at community events.
Many MLB clubs are hosting skills and physical fitness clinics as well as surprise "takeovers" of youth baseball and softball games or practices featuring appearances by Major League players, alumni, mascots, public address announcers and more. Activities will include kids participating in special news conferences, pregame meet-and-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. Major League players, coaches and managers will wear Play Ball Weekend patches during the weekend's games, and players on home clubs will wear custom T-shirts during batting practice on the date of their club's activations.
Teams that are on the road Saturday and Sunday will host their Play Ball Weekend activities during another homestand.
The Phillies clinic's success is in creating what Joaquin called "touch points," or places where youth athletes can interact with baseball on a tangible level. Such interactions could foster a love for the game.
The idea of baseball, in its various shapes and levels of competition, harkens back to Joaquin's childhood.
"When I was a kid, all we did was think about picking up a ball and going to the yard and doing a home run derby or any type of thing that had to do with baseball. And this was just an opportunity for us to do that," Joaquin said.
But the thread of baseball, in any shape or form, is common and remains the driving force behind the Play Ball campaign.
"I think a lot of these kids who participate will know that there's a lot more out there than just the game; you can have fun doing it as well. Just to get a bat and a ball in their hand is real key for these guys to see it," Joaquin said.
Ben Harris is a reporter for MLB.com based in Philadelphia. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.