MLB hosts Play Ball event at Claflin University in South Carolina
ORANGEBURG, SC — Historic Mirmow Field and Claflin University hosted nearly 100 kids Saturday for the second iteration of Major League Baseball’s HBCU Play Ball series.
Claflin head baseball coach James Randall said he was honored to host the event and help grow the game of baseball.
“Well, it’s a great honor. Anytime you can organize something that improves the game of baseball and MLB chooses your program to host an event, that’s motivating,” Randall said. “It’s something this community needs, so I think it’s a lot.”
Children ages 5 to 12 participated in five drills designed to help them develop basic baseball and softball skills.
The Play Ball series relaunched the previous weekend in Tuscaloosa, Ala. The events are back after the COVID-19 pandemic brought them to a halt, which excites David James, MLB’s vice president for baseball and softball development.
“Before COVID, we planned to hit nearly a dozen HBCUs,” James said. “And then, obviously, the world has changed a bit. We go back to that at the start of the season and make sure we go to the communities where we don’t necessarily play – things like that – and make sure we come to those communities and give the kids an opportunity to participate to our sport.
Shawn Taylor, Superintendent of Recreation and Marketing for the City of Orangeburg, said MLB’s choice of Orangeburg as the site shows the city’s commitment to the sport.
“Our community is very, very committed to baseball and softball,” Taylor said. “To have MLB come and host this event, to think enough about our great city, that’s really powerful for us.”
Parents watched from the stands at Mirmow Field as their children learned to do things like run bases and throw balls on the ground.
Kameaka Garvin signed up her 12-year-old daughter for the Play Ball event after hearing about it from her daughter Erin’s softball coach.
Garvin emphasized the significance of the event to the children of the Orangeburg community.
“For [MLB] coming here with these kids is wonderful because the kids in this community need something like this, that they can actually touch – and say, “I was part of Major League Baseball practice or camp,” said Garvin. “So, yeah, it’s good for them.”
James echoed Garvin’s sentiment, saying these events are specifically about ensuring kids of color have access to baseball.
“When I was hired, one of the things I was tasked with doing was developing the game and making sure there was more access,” James said. “So events like these are really helping us achieve some of those milestones.”
Claflin University baseball players acted as drill coaches, guiding and encouraging the kids throughout the day.
Randall praised his players for their intransigence on volunteering, joking that he had to tell a few of the players to back off and rest for their double header against Augusta University which was playing out after the event. .
“The kids are excited about it, I think my guys are having more fun than the kids, to be honest with you,” said Randall, a former first baseman/outfielder who played four Major League games with the White Sox in 1988. “It’s always good anytime you can give back to the community. At Claflin, we do a lot of community service. So it’s a great addition to our program.
Junior utility player Charles Jackson said he appreciated being able to help grow the game of baseball following the event.
“It’s a lot of fun, important because it’s next-gen,” Jackson said. “You have to teach them what you know so they can be better than you.”
Randall said the event was important for the children in attendance, not only because they learned the game, but also because they learned skills they could take with them outside of the sport.
“I think it’s a giant step towards improving the game,” Randall said. “You know, we have kids – some of those kids have probably never been exposed to any type of baseball or softball, anything like that. And any time you can introduce a young person to something that motivates them, it could be something that will continue with him in life.