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Youngsters with baseball skills recently enjoyed a day in a Southeast Portland ballpark

DAVID F. ASHTON - Sellwood Middle School sixth-grader Bryce Fujimoto showed his professional-looking batting stance, as the Play Ball Portland Clinic got underway. That the weather was cold and blustery didn't stop more than 125 kids from Inner Southeast and other parts of the city from coming out to Walker Stadium on S.E. Holgate Boulevard at 92nd on October 7, for the "Play Ball Portland Clinic".

The event was put on by the nonprofit group Friends of Baseball, partnered with Major League Baseball's Play Ball initiative and the U.S. Conference of Mayors.

"Friends of Baseball enhances children's lives through baseball's power to teach, and by providing after-school and summer programs with the help of trained volunteer coaches and mentors," remarked the organization's executive director, Nova Newcomer. "We want more kids to have access to active sports, because there's been an 8% decline over the last eight years in team sport participation."

Fewer kids playing team sports can be attributed both to low income and lack of access, she said. "We want to make sure that the sport of baseball is accessible to youth and their families in all parts of Portland."

On hand to kick off the midday clinic was Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler, who read a proclamation passed by the Portland City Council, declaring the day to be "Play Ball Day".

"This is a really great opportunity for kids in Southeast Portland neighborhoods," Wheeler told THE BEE. "This helps the city, because it helps engage young people in athletics; baseball is a platform for bringing people together, bringing families together, encouraging kids to get away from video games and be active."

The baseball clinic gave him a welcome break from dealing with Portland being called "Tent City USA", and other issues, Wheeler reflected. "This is blissfully different from what I get asked during the week!

"I understand why people are angry about the homeless situation, and transportation congestion, and these other major issues, I get that," Wheeler went on. "But, there are also a lot of great things happening in our community, and it's important for us all to step back, and recognize these opportunities."

On their way in, each child received a T-shirt, wristband, and Franklin plastic bat and ball set.

After hearing the dignitaries and taking a "team photo" together, the kids divided up into game stations – where they batted balls, ran the bases, and practiced catching. With the help of more than a dozen coaches, the youngsters spent the next two hours learning more about the game of baseball and having fun.

To learn more about the nonprofit group Friends of Baseball, go online: www.friendsofbaseball.org

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