MLB, players union commit $30 million to youth baseball development

Both MLB's management and its players realize the importance of getting the next generation of kids on the diamond.

Kelley L Cox/Kelley L Cox-USA TODAY Sports

When Rob Manfred became commissioner last January, he said his top priority was expanding baseball through youth participation.

Manfred, in conjunction with the players union, is putting substance behind those words.

Major League Baseball and the union have agreed to a joint $30 million commitment to the growth and development of youth baseball, according to major-league sources.

Details of the plan, which is expected to be announced during the All-Star break, are not final. But it will include an emphasis on re-engaging minorities and, in particular, African-Americans, sources said.

MLB also is working in other ways to accelerate its "Play Ball" initiative, which promotes baseball-related activities for youth across America.

Manfred spoke in late June to the U.S. Conference of Mayors, and since then more than 130 mayors have pledged to host a "Play Ball" event in August.

Later this month, at the Dodgers’ former spring-training complex in Vero Beach, Fla., MLB and USA Baseball will host 150 youths from underserved communities, ages 13 to 16. The players will receive elite coaching and training for two weeks, all expenses paid.

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MLB is funding that program, but the Vero Beach camp is precisely the kind that might be covered in the future by the joint commitment from MLB and the union.

The length of that commitment has not been determined; a three-year investment of $10 million per year has been discussed, according to one source.

Neither side actually will write a check; the money will come from two joint funds, the Industry Growth Fund and International Tax Fund, sources said.

That money is accessible for the development and growth of the game, both domestically and internationally. One party cannot draw from those funds without receiving permission from the other, according to the collective-bargaining agreement.

The union, long interested in better engaging youth and growing the sport, was an eager partner in the joint venture; current and former players have expressed interest in assisting with the program, sources said.

Manfred, meanwhile, is focused on three areas, according to major-league officials.

*Inspiring children of all ages and from all demographics to play baseball.

*Exposing baseball to children in underserved areas, something that MLB started with its RBI program – Reviving Baseball in Inner Cities.

*Developing elite minority players through the expansion of the sport’s urban academies and programs, such as the one scheduled for Vero Beach.

The $30 million investment will boost baseball’s efforts in each of those areas, sources said.

Among the possibilities: Additional youth academies, RBI programs and elite camps, plus marketing campaigns and greater support for programs operated by former players.

The owners and players share the same goal; they want more kids playing ball.