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Guest columnist Rob Manfred: Lots of good things happening behind the scenes

AP Photo/Ted S. Warren

It has been nearly seven months since I became the Commissioner of Baseball, and the job is what anyone who loves baseball would expect it to be. I believe it's the best position in the world, and every day I'm grateful for the opportunity to serve this great game. Since Jan. 25, my primary focus has revolved around improving the ways that Major League Baseball reaches kids, inspires their interest and compels them to play and follow our game -- during a time when other entertainment options are proliferating and fewer kids are taking part in physical activity.

One prominent example of our efforts occurred during our recent All-Star festivities in Cincinnati. On Monday, July 13, I attended a news conference along with Tony Clark, executive director of the Major League Baseball Players Association. Together we announced that the 30 clubs and the major league players had jointly committed $30 million to youth baseball development. The sum will go toward improving the availability and the effectiveness of elite youth baseball programs in the United States and Canada. In the years ahead, we want to develop coaches, offset some of the costs associated with elite youth baseball and launch more academies, particularly in areas that can impact minorities and kids from underserved areas.

As we made this announcement at The Westin Cincinnati, I took note that the first row of the packed ballroom included some of our game's finest players. Chris Archer, Lorenzo Cain, Andrew McCutchen, Anthony Rizzo, Max Scherzer and Mark Teixeira all sat attentively, as did Vanderbilt products Sonny Gray and David Price. (In a Buster Olney column, I have to mention Vanderbilt, right?) All of the All-Stars had arrived in Cincinnati the previous night, with many not making it to the hotel until the wee hours following their travels from around the country. Yet they all made it a priority to attend a significant announcement about baseball's future. Their collective presence illustrated to me that our game's gifted athletes take pride in their chosen sport and care about its course in the years ahead.

The 2015 All-Star Game featured a total of 20 All-Stars who were 25 or younger, setting a new all-time record. Our time in Cincinnati -- from Todd Frazier's electrifying performance in the new and improved Home Run Derby to Mike Trout's history-making selection as the first back-to-back All-Star Game MVP -- made clear that our sport has countless young players who are worthy of celebration. We have just the right group of dynamic players and personalities to convey the day-to-day joys and excitement of Major League Baseball. A major goal of ours is to shine a brighter light on the many players -- such as Trout, McCutchen, Bryce Harper, Buster Posey, Clayton Kershaw, Felix Hernandez and countless others -- who will appeal to kids because of their passion, athleticism and the fun they have on the diamond. Anyone who has ever met young players such as Archer and Frazier know how well-suited they are to serve as outstanding spokesmen for our sport.

Our greatest challenge going forward is to strengthen the foundation of youth baseball and softball. In recent weeks, I have visited Little League Baseball in Williamsport, Pennsylvania, Ripken Baseball in Maryland and the inaugural MLB-MLBPA Elite Development Invitational at Dodgertown in Vero Beach, Florida. I have also seen firsthand the great work that our Urban Youth Academy programs are doing in Cincinnati, Compton (California), and Washington, D.C. Those trips have left lasting impressions and have given us a roadmap to follow. We are also working hard to become more closely aligned with all the great youth programs across the country. In March, we hired Tony Reagins, the former general manager of the Angels, to represent Major League Baseball in the youth space. Tony will be our voice to college, high school and amateur programs, linking our resources with local leagues.

Our signature new youth-participation platform, unveiled in June, is called "PLAY BALL," a joint effort with USA Baseball that encourages not only traditional styles of play, but also the casual formats that do not require teams or fields -- such as playing catch, home run derby and running bases -- that have long been a key to our game. In partnership with the U.S. Conference of Mayors, August is national "PLAY BALL Month." More than 125 mayors in cities across the country are hosting baseball-related activities in their communities this month. Our clubs will also be running special programs for kids who attend their games. Minor league baseball has pledged its full support of PLAY BALL, which is an important example of all the organizations in the sport working together to benefit the game we all love.

Our research has shown that playing the game as a kid is the biggest determinant toward becoming a lifelong fan. The second factor is the age at which a child attends his or her first game. The younger the age, the stronger the connection becomes. Centrally, the Commissioner's Community Initiative will continue to get low-cost tickets to young people. Along with our clubs, we will be thoughtful in our efforts to get kids to the ballpark early and often. Keeping our game affordable and accessible is a significant part of that. I believe we have the best ballpark experiences for fans largely because our ballparks are so kid-friendly. The "Calling All Kids" program of the Red Sox and the Reds' Fan Zone outside of Great American Ball Park -- complete with a miniature field, batting cages and other activities -- embody how we can appeal to children. At the All-Star Game, we ran a series of youth-centered events throughout Cincinnati, such as the "Largest Game of Catch" and the All-Star Hitting Challenge. Topics such as pace of play and the continued integration of technology through industry leader MLB.com also figure prominently into the broader conversation about how to pique and maintain the attention -- and perhaps just as importantly, the imaginations -- of our kids.

In the future, we will strive to be respectful of the game's traditions and responsive to the wishes of our fans, while also being open-minded to the need for change. It is an exciting time for the game, and I am looking forward to the road ahead.

What follows is Buster's notes and links portion of the column:


Rangers, Dodgers are polar opposites in terms of internal stability

When Adrian Beltre went down with a thumb injury early in the season, the Texas Rangers' front office thought about going outside the organization and finding a stopgap to fill in at third base. Instead, they decided to summon rising prospect Joey Gallo, partly because of Gallo's talent.

Another part of their reasoning, however, is that they loved the culture that seemed to be growing within their clubhouse since the start of spring training, and they wanted to look for solutions from that same group, rather than risk complicating that dynamic with an outsider who would require playing time as Beltre returned.