SBJ/Aug. 10-16, 2015/In Depth

Little League grad Manfred leads MLB in drive for youth

Since MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred was elected a year ago and officially took over the position in January, youth engagement and participation has been the single issue he’s highlighted the most.

Manfred, the first graduate of the Little League program to become MLB commissioner, sees youth participation as critical on two key fronts. First, boosting numbers within the youth leagues would reverse marked decline in
participation and create a fuller pipeline of talent eventually funneling to the major leagues. Second, even the vast majority of youth players who don’t reach the professional ranks are far more likely to be avid MLB fans.

“Kids today have a lot of alternatives, certainly way more than when I was a kid. And we have to be competitive in that space,” Manfred said.

Manfred’s attention to youth participation has taken on several forms. He has increased attention on several existing youth development programs, such as the Urban Youth Academies and Reviving Baseball in Inner Cities, and created a senior-level executive position to oversee them. Former Los Angeles Angels general manager Tony Reagins now is in that role, working closely with Chris Marinak, senior vice president of league economics and strategy.

Those programs have since been joined by Play Ball, a collaborative effort with USA Baseball designed to highlight
Commissioner Rob Manfred joins in the fun.
Photo by: MLB
more casual forms of baseball and the ways the sport can be played with fewer than two full teams. The program also offers educational and medically reviewed resources for youth players and coaches. Special events have been core to Play Ball and initial ones have included a game of catch during recent All-Star Game festivities in Cincinnati that set a Guinness World Record for the largest such game of catch, and a special Play Ball launch event in the Bronx, N.Y., that featured MLB players.

The league also used last month’s All-Star Game in Cincinnati to announce plans to double down on overall youth efforts by beginning a $30 million joint initiative with the MLB Players Association aimed at sparking growth in youth baseball and softball participation in the U.S. and Canada.

The $30 million, to be split between the league and union, will build upon existing programs such as RBI and Play Ball, with specific initiatives to include coaching training and recognition programs, matching grants for youth baseball academies, and defraying expenses for inner-city youth to compete in elite-level showcases typically attended by suburban players.

“The programs that are out there already are great, but this is an opportunity to make them even better, and make even more of an impact in this area,” said Tony Clark, MLBPA executive director.

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