Orioles center fielder Adam Jones and Major League Baseball Players Association executive director Tony Clark — who himself enjoyed a 15-year MLB career — have more in common than the fact they each have more than 250 big league home runs to their name. Both of them grew up as members of the Boys & Girls Clubs in San Diego.
San Diego is the site of the 112th Boys & Girls Clubs of America National Conference, being held at the Manchester Grand Hyatt Hotel through Friday. And Clark and Jones’ names, as well as other BGCA alumni who reached the Major Leagues, came up often as the conference kicked off on Monday.
“Tony Clark was inducted into the Boys & Girls Club Hall of Fame at the conference last year,” said Tom Brasuell, MLB’s vice president of community affairs, “and today at the launch, we talked about the fact that Adam Jones is a Club kid from here in San Diego, and a future Boys & Girls Club Hall of Famer.
“Adam came to us some years ago and said, ‘Hey, I want to do a public service announcement for the Boys & Girls Clubs.’ And over the 22 years we’ve had this partnership with BGCA, we’ve done 53 PSAs. Adam’s is the most recent one, and it was filmed at a club in Baltimore, where he has donated time and money, including funding a new computer lab and making several personal visits.”
The reason Clark and Jones, as well as many other notable BGCA alumni, have found it so important to give back to the organization is because it has had an indelible impact on the lives of countless children during their formative years. It has resulted in many dreams fulfilled, including dreams of reaching the Majors.
Major League Baseball and the Boys & Girls Clubs of America have partnered to enrich the lives of youth all around the country since 1997, when the BGCA was named the official charity of MLB. The results have included high-impact programs that introduce children to baseball, as well as national campaigns that raise public awareness about the vital youth development services Clubs provide in their communities.
On Monday night in San Diego, Brasuell delivered remarks at Petco Park for the launch of this week’s national conference.
“Being at Petco Park — a beautiful, picturesque ballpark — you couldn’t have a better backdrop to start off this 112th conference,” Brasuell said. “We reiterated our commitment to [the leadership of the clubs around the country and military bases around the world], to provide the resources to help them to get kids playing ball.”
The BGCA is a key partner in MLB’s initiatives to bring baseball to youth of all communities and backgrounds around the country.
“Last year through the U.S. Conference of Mayors, I think we had 255 mayors of cities across the country hosting PlayBall events,” Brasuell said. “And we encouraged them to do informal events — even just playing catch — and we stressed we don’t need a full diamond and nine balls and nine bats, and you don’t need an umpire. You can just play like kids did back in the old days.
“Pretty much every Boys & Girls Club is going to have a gym. Many of them are based in schools or in housing projects, but a common theme they’re all going to have is a gym. And where do we all start playing ball? A gym.”
At the U.S. Conference of Mayors annual meeting earlier this year, BGCA president and CEO Jim Clark — who also spoke at Monday night’s conference launch — and MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred addressed the mayors, making a commitment to offer the services of the BGCA to expand this effort. Specifically, this is being done through grants from MLB to the BGCA to provide equipment and facilitate events to get kids involved in informal baseball and softball games.
During the national conference in San Diego this week, MLB has a booth where the roughly 2,500 conference participants can learn more about PlayBall and other initiatives.
“We’ll be giving away PlayBall bat-and-ball sets, as well as information about the various PlayBall activities, including how you can start up a local program at your club,” Brasuell said. “There will also be information on discounted products through some of our partners, including Franklin. People can also come by and take a photo in a uniform of their favorite team so they can have it posted on their social media.”
“Our Department of Youth Programs will have information about PlayBall, the Junior Home Run Derby, the RBI program and the Trailblazer Series for girls who want to not only play softball, but also baseball.”
With the conference just getting underway, there will be several highlights over the coming days. But the message from MLB, as delivered in Brasuell’s opening remarks, is one of excitement for what’s to come in the continued partnership with the BGCA.
“We’re here for you,” Brasuell said of his message to the conference participants. “We are here for your clubs, and thankful for all you have done and are continuing to do to make sure kids across the country are getting the best possible activities — baseball and otherwise — that they can.”
Manny Randhawa is a reporter for MLB.com.