I recently had the amazing opportunity to interview the Commissioner of Major League Baseball, Rob Manfred, about his new youth baseball initiatives.
Ever since taking the reins as Commissioner in 2015, Manfred has done a great job encouraging young kids to try out our National Pastime to become fans for life and future players of the sport. This season, with the exciting new launch of the Play Ball initiatives, I was lucky enough to talk to him about the state of the MLB’s youth initiatives.
Matt’s Bats – Can you please briefly explain Major League Baseball’s youth initiatives and why the league is working on this?
Rob Manfred – All of our youth initiatives are under the umbrella of Play Ball. We have programs designed to reach all sorts of kids, including softball programs, baseball programs, and programs to revive baseball in the inner cities, which are grassroots programs in under-served communities. The MLB Youth Academies and the League Development Invitational are designed for kids who may have a future as professional or college players. It’s an across the board approach to try to get kids of all levels playing the game.
MB – How do you think these programs will help get kids back into baseball?
RM – Play Ball has a focus on simpler ways to engage with the game. One of the impediments to kids playing baseball is that people think you need 18 kids in uniforms and an umpire. We want kids playing the game in a simpler way, whether its Wiffleball, Hot Box, catch, or Home Run Derby. There are a lot of simpler games kids can play that are enjoyable and athletic, without needing 18 kids on the field.
MB – These programs can also encourage kids from inner cities that might not have the field space to play a true baseball game, to play games that are like baseball.
Why did you reach out to Ken Griffey, Jr. to lead the initiative as an ambassador?
RM – Two reasons. First, star power drives kids’ interest. Junior was probably the greatest player of his generation. He has a wonderful personality and an infectious smile.
Second, since his retirement he has shown a lot of interest in youth baseball. He has a long relationship with the Boys and Girls Club. We thought he was the perfect ambassador.
MB – I’m a Nats fan, so I was really excited to see the support of former Expos player Marquis Grissom too.
RM – Marquis runs a great program in Atlanta. Our former players are a huge asset helping kids more interested in baseball. They know and understand the game better than anyone. They are passionate about engaging kids because they believe its the future of our game.
MB – What life lessons can baseball teach kids?
RM – First, teamwork. There’s no sport that’s more of a team game than baseball. No matter how good you are, if you don’t have good teammates around you, you can’t win. Second, the ability to overcome failure. Baseball is a very hard game. The best hitter only succeeds 1 in 3 times and you need to be able to work from your failure to be more successful next time you’re up.
MB – Why are the league’s youth initiatives so important to have now?
RM – The competition for youth players’ time is greater than ever before – there are a lot more sports choices they can make. Each and every sport is trying to get kids to specialize in only one sport, which only increases the competition. Baseball needs to make sure it is putting its best foot forward.
MB – On a different subject, Major League Baseball is obviously a men’s league, but when do you think there will be a woman on the field in an MLB uniform, maybe either as an umpire or coach?
RM – I think its really important that our on-field personnel, players, coaches, and umpires, reflect the diversity of our fan base and I’m hopeful that we’ll have a woman on the field in some capacity in the not too distant future.
MB – Finally, when is the next big youth baseball event that the league is sponsoring?
RM – There will be an exciting announcement up in the Bronx, opening a new MLB Academy at Roberto Clemente Park. [MLB announced the opening of the Academy on Wednesday, July 20, 2016, the day after this interview was conducted]. The opportunity to have an Academy at a park named for one of the game’s greatest stars is a really exciting one.
As you can see, there MLB recognizes the importance of getting kids involved in the sport of baseball. Since I am such a fan of baseball and write about my experiences with the game through the viewpoint of a kid, I was very happy to hear about Commissioner Manfred’s plans for the future of the sport. Keep reading my MLB Pro blog MattsBats.com and follow on Twitter and Instagram. I’m going to be covering a lot of cool things this summer–including I’LL BE AT THE WHITE HOUSE TODAY AS PRESIDENT OBAMA WELCOMES THE 2015 WORLD SERIES CHAMPION KANSAS CITY ROYALS.