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Exclusive Little League® Interview with New MLB Commissioner, Rob Manfred

Volume 3 | Issue 4 | April 2015 | Archive
Exclusive Little League® Interview with New MLB Commissioner, Rob Manfred
The Parent Connection - You’ve been very clear that one of your many goals is to increase youth participation in baseball. For the future of the sport, how important is it to get more kids involved?

Commissioner Rob Manfred: Simply put, it’s vital. My foremost goals in this position revolve around youth participation and engagement. Kids are the foundation of our game. We know that kids have many more options now than they once did, and importantly, those choices are not limited to a sports context. Going forward, our efforts will try to appeal to kids in particular. I strongly believe that we can create avid fans among youth in a variety of ways. I view this as our greatest opportunity.

TPC - What are some of the initiatives you have planned to grow the game?

RM - We are aiming to get more kids involved as players and as fans. Major League Baseball’s time and energy will be devoted to initiatives that serve those two purposes. We are already at work on streamlining our many existing youth baseball efforts and improving their overall efficiency. We recently appointed longtime executive Tony Reagins, the former GM of the Angels, to serve as our Senior Vice President for Youth Programs, which is a newly created position. Tony will represent us in this space and will be a point of contact for all the amateur baseball organizations that we want to reach. He has outstanding experience as a GM and as a farm director, and he is extremely passionate for our new endeavors. Another component is getting more kids to our games. We will soon roll out some new plans striving to do exactly that. I also want to blend technology into our ballpark experiences and our broadcasts so that we can enhance the ways that kids enjoy our game.

TPC - As the world’s largest youth sports organization, what role does Little League play in growing the game?

RM - It’s not a coincidence that my first trip as Commissioner-Elect was to visit Williamsport. Little League Baseball has a tremendous history and does a fantastic job of teaching the game in our communities. Major League Baseball and Little League Baseball share many of the same goals – namely, we want to take our sport to new heights and let it thrive for generations to come. I am looking forward to expanding upon our great relationship with Little League Baseball.

Note: In an effort to not just grow local leagues, but Grow the Game in general, Little League recently launched the Little League Grant Program, an initiative that makes available impactful funds to leagues in need. Grants can range from several thousand dollars up to $20,000 per grant. Grants are available for general league enhancement, enhancement/development of the Challenger program, enhancement/development of the Softball program and to leagues enrolled in the Little League Urban Initiative. Click for the Grant Application and other important materials.

TPC - What can parents do to get more kids involved in baseball?

RM - Baseball is the game that is passed from one generation to the next. Our goals of increasing participation in baseball and the frequency of attending Major League games cannot happen without the support and the enthusiasm of our parents. I am a father of four children, all of whom participated in sports growing up. I know some of the demands involved. Luckily, I also know how rewarding those experiences are. We want to highlight the fortunate stature that our game holds as the sport of families.

TPC - This year, MLB launched its Pitch Smart program, which is designed to limit pitch numbers with young players and keep their arms healthy. Since 2006, Little League has used its strict Pitch Count program with the same objectives in mind. How important is it to have youth arm safety be so top of mind from the professional ranks all the way down to the youth level?

RM - Little League Baseball’s model made a significant impact on its players and was a meaningful symbol to other organizations. Pitch Smart is one strong example of our vision for youth baseball. Obviously, it serves the best interests of our sport to have healthy players. When we saw the flurry of arm injuries early last season, it continued an alarming trend. In partnership with USA Baseball, we wanted to build a resource that could begin to address a difficult issue for the entire sport, and we recognized that injuries were not just a concern in the professional ranks. Our experts had seen countless kids whose paths in baseball were disrupted by elbow issues. We want players, parents and coaches at all levels to have accurate information available to them. Pitch Smart will give them greater awareness about warning signs and will allow them to make informed decisions about usage. Ultimately, we hope to foster long and healthy careers for pitchers at all levels of our sport.

TPC - You visited the Little League Baseball® World Series for the first time last year. What was that experience like?

RM - I loved the experience. Steve Keener and his colleagues were incredibly gracious hosts. I enjoyed meeting Mo’ne Davis and the entire Taney team during their amazing run. Overall, I was very impressed by how the tournament operated and how the community responded. I knew then that reaching out to children would be a central part of my focus as Commissioner. Because of those goals, the setting truly resonated with me. The enthusiasm in the ballpark and from all the kids was something I’ll always remember. That trip marked the perfect place at the perfect time, because it crystalized the great opportunities our game has in the years ahead.

TPC - Little League is considered by many to be the first page of their lifelong scrapbook. You played Little League growing up. Tell us about that experience. What are some of your memories, and how did playing Little League help set the stage for a promising future?

RM - I have a picture of my Rome, New York Little League team in my office, along with a roster that Little League Baseball had sent to me. Even without the roster, I could still name my teammates to this day. I have such fond memories of Little League. The highlight of my playing days was when I caught the last out of a perfect game. But even away from the field, baseball played an important part in my life. The sense of teamwork and a focus on goals bigger than yourself helped me in school and in my professional career. The significance of a strong effort, determination and simply doing your best every day – even when the results don’t go your way – were all important lessons for me. I believe that there are processes and outcomes. We talk about fundamentals in baseball all the time. Baseball teaches you how important process is. If you focus on executing a sound process, then more often than not, the outcome will be in your favor.

TPC - Let’s talk a bit more about your Little League roster. You mentioned that even without it, you still knew all of the names of the players on your team, and that you pictured them now as they looked then. That’s a powerful memory. What does that tell parents about what their children are currently experiencing during the Little League season?

RM - I think it tells parents that baseball can be a profound and formative experience for kids. You’re not just playing a sport; you’re learning about the team concept, which can be channeled in meaningful ways in life. One of the many things that I love about baseball is that many people can play vital roles and be a part of a team’s success. From that standpoint, the game instills selflessness and builds self-esteem.

TPC - From your days as a Little League parent, what are some of the benefits that the entire family can gain from participating in local leagues?

RM: Family participation is one of the driving forces of our sport. One of the greatest virtues of our game is the sense of community that it inspires. In our society today, it seems clear that there are more forces vying for our attention. Baseball, to me, has withstood the test of time as a constructive part of young people’s lives. That’s a wonderful thing for families to rally around. It was always the case for my family, and I’m grateful for that.

TPC - What can Little Leaguers® teach MLB players about the sport of baseball?

RM - I loved seeing the enthusiasm of Little Leaguers during my visit last August. Major League players, almost without exception, play with a level of enthusiasm that produces greatness. Players like Andrew McCutchen, Hunter Pence, Jose Reyes, Felix Hernandez and Max Scherzer come to mind, among others. I always welcome seeing that kind of attitude at the Major League level. The late, great Ernie Banks proved the power of optimism in his career, and I think that’s a strong example for everyone who plays our game.

TPC - If a parent is 50/50 on whether to sign their child up for baseball or not, what would you tell them to convince them to do so?

RM - Walt Whitman once said, “I see great things in baseball. It’s our game – the American game.” Our National Pastime now belongs to the world. Baseball is not just a great form of exercise, but more importantly a backdrop for teaching values like teamwork and determination. Those are traits that apply far beyond the field. Because of the manner in which our game touches its players and fans alike and imparts lessons to kids that can serve their futures well, baseball is an activity in which players and their families should take pride.
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The Parent Connection - April 2015 - Archive