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Jun. 7—The city of Toledo, in partnership with Major League Baseball and the Toledo Mud Hens, put out the call to area youth: Are you ready to play ball?

Nearly 400 kids ages 5 to teens from across northwest Ohio replied with a resounding, “yes.”

They gathered on Fifth Third Field on Sunday for the first “PLAY BALL” event meant to teach youth the fundamentals of baseball or softball in hopes it kickstarts a longstanding love of the game.

Kids took turns testing their skills at five different stations, including batting, running bases, agility, catching, and putting everything they’ve learned to use in a mini game.

“We have a lot of learning to do. We have a lot of fun to have, and it’s important not only this summer but all the time that folks your age have good, healthy things to do,” Mayor Wade Kapszukiewicz said in his opening remarks. “Today it’s baseball, maybe tomorrow it will be something else, alright, but it’s really important that you get out and run around and spend time this summer moving your muscles and getting some sun on your skin and just having a good, fun time, and making friends.”

Many kids play the sport already and came dressed in baseball gear and cleats. They stepped up confidently to show off their power hits and catching skills, sans a glove.

When James Barton, 8, swung a plastic bat, the Wiffle balls sailed over the head of his coach. He typically plays first base or right field on his 3B team, but he was interested in learning a new position on Sunday.

“Something I really want to learn about is shortstop because my uncle always played shortstop and I want to play shortstop,” he said.

Sisters Leah, 12, Emma, 9, and Amelia, 5, Chmielewski also weren’t new to the game, each playing on teams of their own.

But their parents thought it would be fun for the kids to feel what it’s like to play on a professional field.

“It’s an opportunity for them to meet coaches and even if they give them one tip or pointer to take home, it’s beneficial,” their dad, Gerald Chmielewski, said.

Amelia was already feeling more confident in her skills.

“I like batting and catching because I can hit a ball and I can catch it,” she said.

A few of the youth had never played before and gave new meaning to the phrase “crowding the plate” by actually standing on home base when batting.

Fernanda de Jesus, 14, knew where to stand from practicing some with her younger siblings at home, but she was the only one of the four who isn’t already playing on a team.

She didn’t know which position might best fit her skills — batting quickly became her favorite activity — but she said she enjoys the games for something more than being on the field.

“I like that I got to meet new friends,” she said. “It’s the best day of the summer.”

Volunteers, including some players from the University of Toledo, Bowling Green State University, and Owens Community College, helped run the stations and offer tips for improvement.

Each child also received a PLAY BALL branded bat and ball set to continue practicing at home.

The event “is an example of what we’re able to do with Major League Baseball’s support,” Mud Hens General Manager Erik Ibsen said.

The Mud Hens plan to host other types of events going forward to continue growing the love of the game, he said, but he did not provide specifics about what they may entail or when they will be announced.

First Published June 6, 2021, 4:23pm