Major League Baseball Commissioner Rob Manfred stood on the infield of a brand-new artificial surface and looked out on a beautiful, sunny afternoon at the kids and parents who came out Saturday, July 9 for the rededication of the Conrad Prebys Branch of the Boys & Girls Clubs of Greater San Diego, located at 115 Woodward Avenue.
“Here at this wonderful place, the Padres and Major League Baseball donated over $350,000 to give kids an opportunity to play at a facility that’s safe for them each and every day,” he said. “Maybe this facility will produce another great Boys & Girls Club alumnus, like Frank Robinson or Ken Griffey Jr., who’s going to be inducted into the Hall of Fame in just a few weeks. I know, however, that this club will play a major role in producing the next generation of people who share great American values.”
It was his second of four such field dedications as part of a whirlwind tour. Commissioner Manfred, who had just arrived in San Diego earlier in the morning, wasasked after the event about the blitz pace of his personal community-appearance schedule to promote his “Play Ball” initiative to new crowds.
“You have to do as much as possible while you’re here,” he said. “You’ve got to make the most of it.”
This site was chosen by MLB as a 2016 All-Star Community Legacy project. An existing parking lot and green space has been transformed into a multi-purpose baseball diamond complete with manual scoreboard, moveable fences and a large shade structure.
Other dignitaries at this event included Padres executive chairman Ron Fowler; Padres owner Peter Seidler; Padres president and CEO Mike Dee; Tom Seidler, the Padres’ senior vice president of community and military affairs; Escondido mayor Sam Abed; two-time Padres All-Star pitcher Randy Jones; Danny Sherlock, president and CEO of Boys & Girls Clubs of Greater San Diego; Michelle Malin, vice president of development for Boys & Girls Clubs of Greater San Diego; and Frank Sanchez, national vice president of B&GCA, now celebrating its 25th anniversary as MLB’s official charity.
For a special touch at this one,several boys and girls from the local T- ball organization stood near the dais, each holding a baseball bat that had been signed — usually just a first name — by the children at the facility. The Commissioner went over and was handed the first one.
“The All-Star Game is one of the great events of the summer. It provides an opportunity for Major League Baseball to interact with communities,” Manfred said. “Here in San Diego, we’ll leave behind legacy projects, with the help of the Padres, worth over $5 million. Since 1997, when the legacy program began, MLB during its All-Star events has donated over $75 million worth of goods and services.
“Youth is a special focus of this year’s All-Star Game. We’ve expanded our All-Star offering to include two new and exciting events. Right down by Petco Park, we have the Play Ball Park for the first time ever. It will become a regular part of the All-Star Game program from here on out. And just yesterday, the first edition of the Jr. Home RunDerby was held here in San Diego.”
At the Conrad Prebys Branch, funding has repurposed an existing parking lot and green space into a multipurpose baseball diamond complete with movable fences and a large shade structure. The field will be used for both T-ball and casual baseball and softball playing activities that MLB has been promoting through Play Ball.
“The backbone of our youth initiatives is providing kids with places to play our game,” Manfred said. “In the last five years, during All-Star Game events, we have built and restored 27 fields. Five additional fields will be added to that list here in San Diego, and we’re very proud of that accomplishment.
“Of all our initiatives in Major League Baseball, the Play Ball initiative is really the most important. The goal is to get young kids engaged with our game — formal play, informal play — in a safe environment so that we can pass the values of baseball onto the next generation.”