Salt Lake City Play Ball draws huge turnout

Former major leaguer John Buck and President and CEO of Minor League Baseball Pat O’Conner discuss the Play Ball event in Salt Lake City

For president of the Pacific Coast League Branch Rickey III, it was meeting Jackie Robinson and Pee Wee Reese on the steps outside of a hotel in Philadelphia while his family was in town to watch the Brooklyn Dodgers play.

For president and CEO of Minor League Baseball Pat O’Conner, it was Freddie Patek saying, "How you doin’, kid?" as the two made eye contact while walking by the Columbus Jets’ dugout on Little League Day.

These memories have stuck with Rickey and O’Conner throughout the years, and that’s exactly the reason why Major League Baseball, Minor League Baseball and the Salt Lake Bees teamed up to host a Play Ball event at Smith’s Ballpark in Salt Lake City on Saturday morning.

MLB hosts Play Ball event with the Salt Lake Bees to celebrate the new MiLB partnership and youth baseball strategy in Salt Lake City

"We’re excited about the event and the initiative, in general," said senior vice president of youth programs for Major League Baseball Tony Reagins. "Being able to be here in Salt Lake City with the Bees and the support that they’ve given this initiative has been great. Not only the Bees, but the entire state of Utah, and the city, has been tremendous."

The event was a stem of the Play Ball initiative that MLB launched in 2015. This is the first year that MiLB has joined in on the efforts, and while it officially began last weekend in Oklahoma City, the turnout in Salt Lake, which included more than 500 youth participants, was a sight to behold.

"The bar has been set pretty high with the turnout here in Salt Lake with the organization," O’Conner said.

The event featured stations for the youth to participate in, including a home run derby, running the basepaths and agility drills. They also received instruction and guidance from players on the Salt Lake Bees, the University of Utah baseball team, the Weber State softball team and former professional baseball players like John Buck, a former All-Star from nearby Taylorsville High School.

The demand for the event in Salt Lake City was so high that the organizers created two sessions to accommodate everyone.

More than 500 boys and girls participated in Saturday’s Play Ball event.Asay Photography/Salt Lake Bees

"It’s important that we do this," Reagins said. "To be at communities around the country and giving kids the opportunity just to play our game, and to have an event like this where we’re doing multiple sessions because of the demand and the interest of the young people here is great. That’s what it’s all about."

The hefty participation numbers shouldn’t come as a surprise, though, as the Bees have always put in a concerted effort to host youth clinics, and it also has the largest kids club in Minor League Baseball in the Knothole Club.

Even so, the Bees have decided to ramp up their efforts. They announced before Saturday morning’s event that the organization will be developing four new programs — the Junior Bees, Salt Lake Bees Kids Club, Salt Lake Bees Baseball Academy and RBI Salt Lake — that will "further connect with the community" and continue to grow the game.

Another successful Play Ball Weekend wraps up on Sunday with various teams and players contributing to the initiative

"It’s going to be great, because each one of them does something a little different," said Bees general manager Marc Amicone. "We see one of our obligations to our community is to steward the game of baseball. We think it’s important for us to help the game grow. This is the kind of thing that helps that."

The nationwide effort to get today’s youth out and playing the sport of baseball can be hard work, but it becomes easier when the people in cities like Salt Lake City, and its surrounding areas, are willing to buy in.

"We’ll know better down the road, but it’s like planting seeds," Rickey said. "You have to go out and spend the time planting. You have to make sure all the ingredients are there for those seeds to sprout. And then later, you’re going to start seeing those little shoots to pop up. Down the road, it could be a full-fledged field of whatever you planted. We’re looking at the seeds and it’s just wonderful to see going on."

Griffin Adams is a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

Jose Abreu collects three hits and drives in the opening run of the game, helping the White Sox to a 5-3 win against the Indians

"It is kind of cool. Just thinking about that, it’s been a long time since I got drafted by this organization," Holmberg said. "I’m happy to be here, and I’m happy to win the ballgame."

David Holmberg bends a breaking ball over the outside corner of the plate, freezing Yan Gomes for the out in the 3rd inning

Carlos Santana added a solo shot off White Sox reliever Dan Jennings in the sixth.

"We’ve never faced him," Indians manager Terry Francona said of Holmberg. "I think there’s some deception. There’s a good changeup. I think he also knows how to pitch for a younger guy. I think he has a good feel to pitch. We didn’t get much going besides the home runs. That was kind of our offense."

Carlos Santana clubs a hanging breaking ball into the left-field seats for a solo home run, making it a one-run ballgame in the 6th inning

It was an odd night for the White Sox offense, which piled up 14 hits, but also ran into five outs on the basepaths. Indians left fielder Michael Brantley delivered a pair of outfield assists, throwing out Melky Cabrera at the plate in the second and nabbing Jose Abreu trying to stretch a single into a double in the fifth. In all, Chicago ran into three outs at third, one at home and one at second.

Michael Brantley digs a ball out of the left-field corner and throws to Francisco Lindor, who fires to the plate to nab Melky Cabrera

The White Sox did not hit Tribe starter Josh Tomlin hard, but they hit the right-hander a lot, connecting for nine hits in his 2 2/3 innings. That flurry included seven singles — three straight to open Chicago’s three-run first inning. Matt Davidson (two-run single), Abreu (RBI single) and Cabrera (RBI single) each came through against Tomlin.

"It just came down to me not doing my job early on in the game," Tomlin said. "It put us in a hole. We weren’t able to dig out of it. As a group, there was a lot of fight in the dugout. There was a lot of intensity. The one person who didn’t do their job today was me."

MOMENTS THAT MATTERED
Davidson delivers: Already up 1-0, the White Sox loaded the bases with no outs in the first and looked to add on. But Todd Frazier chopped into a 5-2 fielder’s choice, providing Cleveland hope that it could escape further damage in the inning. Davidson then sent a pitch from Tomlin into left for a single that brought both Abreu and Avisail Garcia home, giving Chicago a quick 3-0 advantage.

Matt Davidson breaks his bat and lines a single into left field, driving in two runs to give the White Sox an early 3-0 lead in the 1st

Brantley’s rare error: Entering Saturday, Brantley had committed just two errors in 3,563 2/3 innings in left field, dating back to 2013. In the second, a fly ball off the bat of Leury Garcia clanked off Brantley’s glove as he closed in on the side wall down the line. Garcia made it all the way to third on the error (Brantley’s first of the year), then crossed the plate on Cabrera’s bloop single to right two batters later.

Leury Garcia flies a ball deep down the left-field line and off Michael Brantley’s glove, then he races into third on the defensive miscue

"That would’ve been a great play," Tomlin said. "I talked to him on the bench about it. He was trying to take blame for it. He was playing the guy kind of a pull-gap a little bit. He made an unbelievable play on the ball. He got there. He’s close to the wall right there, tried to make a good play right there. Good players still make mistakes." More >

Melky Cabrera flares a single into shallow right field, plating Leury Garcia to give the White Sox a 4-0 lead in the 2nd inning

QUOTABLE
"His throwing, the accuracy, the carry. I don’t know if you would term it a ‘gun,’ like you see some guys. Like Santana, that to me is a gun. But Brant is so consistent and the ball has so much good carry to it. And he’s so accurate, that very few times you see him throw the ball and an infielder gets handcuffed. He just has such a nice feel for it." — Francona, on Brantley’s outfield assists

Jose Abreu slides into second trying to extend a hit, but Jason Kipnis is able to tag him out as the two try to avoid each other at the bag

"They came to me before the game and said to be ready for multiples. I said, ‘OK, perfect.’ I came in after the first inning and they were like, ‘Can you go again?’ And I was like, ‘Yeah, absolutely.’ I went out there and finished the job." –Robertson, on his first two-inning save with the White Sox

David Robertson gets Bradley Zimmer to swing at a pitch in the dirt, as Kevan Smith throws him out at first to finish off a 5-3 win

SOUND SMART WITH YOUR FRIENDS
Encarnacion’s home run in the fourth had an exit velocity of 111 mph, marking his hardest-hit homer of the season. The Indians’ designated hitter had a .199 average on May 20. In 16 games since, Encarnacion has turned in a .362/.403/.672 slash line.

This marked the first time in Brantley’s career that he had two outfield assists in one game. It was the first two-assist game for an Indians outfielder since June 9, 2016 (Rajai Davis).

HONORING A DECADE
Holmberg earned the championship belt for his efforts on Saturday, a belt awarded to the player of the game after a White Sox victory. But it was Mike Pelfrey who got the postgame beer shower as Saturday’s contest gave him 10 years of big league service.

"That’s hard to do. You don’t see many guys get there. I’m proud of him," Robertson said. "That’s awesome."

WHAT’S NEXT
White Sox: Jose Quintana (2-7, 5.30 ERA) makes his 13th start of the season, seventh on the road and second against Cleveland at 12:10 p.m. CT on Sunday. Quintana is 0-3 with a 6.68 ERA over his last six starts, allowing 24 runs over 32 1/3 innings.

Indians: Right-hander Carlos Carrasco (5-3, 3.36 ERA) is scheduled to take the mound for the Tribe in a 1:10 p.m. ET divisional clash with the White Sox on Sunday at Progressive Field. Carrasco has a 0.60 ERA (one earned run in 15 innings) in two starts against Chicago this season.

Jordan Bastian has covered the Indians for MLB.com since 2011, and previously covered the Blue Jays from 2006-10. Read his blog, Major League Bastian, follow him on Twitter @MLBastian and Facebook.

Scott Merkin has covered the White Sox for MLB.com since 2003. Read his blog, Merk’s Works, follow him on Twitter @scottmerkin, on Facebook and listen to his podcast.

This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

Brian McCann launches a solo home run to right field and gives the Astros a 1-0 lead in the bottom of the 2nd inning

"It’s a different game when you have your control and throwing everything you want where you want," Fiers said. "Throughout the game, there were a couple of at-bats where I fell behind some hitters and walked a couple guys, but for the most part, I had everything going."

Mike Fiers goes 7 1/3 innings against the Angels and gives up only two hits and one unearned run while striking out eight batters

"This is the best stuff I think he’s brought into a game this season," Astros manager A.J. Hinch said. "It was a combination of everything, but it seemed to be everything was working off his changeup. He could throw it at any count. He threw some nasty ones that looked like split-fingers. He could change pace with it and control at-bats and bat speed."

With little offense to show between the Astros (44-19) and the Angels, Brian McCann’s ninth home run this season — a solo shot in the second inning off Angels starter Ricky Nolasco — gave the Astros a 1-0 lead they would not relinquish to the Angels, who are once again below .500 at 32-33. It was the Astros’ 18th consecutive game with a homer and Nolasco’s 19th long ball surrendered this season, the most in the American League.

"He pitched a good game," Angels manager Mike Scioscia said of Nolasco, who allowed two runs in seven innings. "Obviously his back is against the wall the whole way. He got some double-play balls to help him out of some jams, but he pitched a really strong seven innings and gave us a chance to win."

Ricky Nolasco gives up only two earned runs in seven innings and picks up two strikeouts in a start against the Astros

Houston tacked on a pair with a fifth-inning sacrifice fly via Yuli Gurriel — whose single in the seventh extended his hitting streak to 10 games — and a Carlos Correa RBI single in the eighth.

Carlos Correa singles into left field and drives in Josh Reddick to give the Astros an insurance run in the bottom of the 8th inning

MOMENTS THAT MATTERED
McCann goes deep: With one out in the second inning, McCann ripped a solo home run to right field to put the Astros up by one. McCann’s bomb traveled 386 feet and left his bat with an exit velocity of 100 mph, according to Statcast™.

"It was a good pitch, but you’ve just got to barrel it in this park," Nolasco said. "He barreled the ball up, basically. It wasn’t a great swing, but at the end of the day, he’s strong enough to get it out of here by just barreling up the ball, and that’s what he did."

Devenski inherits danger: Chris Devenski relieved Fiers in the eighth inning with Angels on first and second. Ben Revere and Danny Espinosa, the duo on base, used a double steal before Revere scored on a groundout by Andrelton Simmons. Devenski, with one out remaining and a runner on third in a 2-1 ballgame, needed five pitches to strike out Kole Calhoun, ending the inning and keeping the Astros in front.

With the tying run on third, Chris Devenski gets Kole Calhoun to strike out swinging to end the top of the 8th inning

"It’s important for not only the rotation but for the bullpen," Hinch said. "Having to use Devenski and Giles today, obviously, is how we win."

"He throws hard and has a good changeup," Calhoun said of Devenski. "He’s got probably a 10-12 miles an hour difference. It’s a good pitch, has a good bottom to it. He threw me a couple good ones."

QUOTABLE
"I felt really good. I had a really good bullpen before the game and I just knew I was throwing my good stuff. When I feel like that, I feel like I’m one of the best pitchers in the league when I have my stuff." — Fiers

SOUND SMART WITH YOUR FRIENDS
McCann’s solo home run in the second was his ninth career homer against Nolasco. No other active pitcher/batter matchup has yielded more home runs. Evan Longoria vs. Chris Tillman was tied with McCann-Nolasco prior to Saturday.

WHAT’S NEXT
Angels: Right-hander Jesse Chavez (5-6, 4.56 ERA) will start Sunday’s series finale for the Angels at 11:10 a.m. PT at Minute Maid Park. Chavez has faced the Astros twice this season, going 0-1 with a 2.70 ERA.

Astros: Rookie right-hander David Paulino will start to close the Astros’ three-game series against the Angels at 1:10 p.m. CT on Sunday afternoon in Minute Maid Park. Paulino will make his third start of the season Sunday and is 0-1 in two starts this season.

Watch every out-of-market regular-season game live on MLB.TV.

Christian Boutwell is a reporter for MLB.com based in Houston.

Maria Guardado covers the Angels for MLB.com.

This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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