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July 9, 2013

Willie Horton's Batting for Kids draws more than 400 children to Comerica Park

By Mark Vest
C & G Sports Writer

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Willie Horton's Batting for Kids draws more than 400 children to Comerica Park
Kids wait in line for their turn to run the bases at Comerica Park. Hundreds of youngsters took part in Willie Horton's 12th annual Batting for Kids event July 1.

Perhaps like no other sport, baseball is most closely connected with the youth of America.

And judging by the strong turnout for the 12th annual Willie Horton’s Batting for Kids July 1 at Comerica Park, baseball is still a favorite among Detroit-area kids. 

The event, which was hosted by the Detroit Tigers Foundation, along with Don Bosco Hall — a human service agency that, according to a release, “provides social service programs to enhance the lives of local youth and their families” — drew approximately 438 urban and suburban children between the ages of 5-15 for a competition that included base running, hitting and throwing skills.

Christine Gavin-Patterson, who works with fund development community relations and marketing for Don Bosco Hall, has been involved with Batting for Kids since its inception and has had the opportunity to watch the event grow over the years.

“The primary goal of the Detroit Tigers is to introduce kids, especially urban kids, to baseball,” she said. “There was a time where kids in Detroit played, and they aspired to be a great baseball player. In Detroit, the recreation programs were diminishing and going away.

“With Don Bosco Hall, we work with kids to help them build a healthy life with self-esteem. We create opportunities (for) healthy activities, particularly in the summer, (so) that they will stay out of trouble and have a more positive future.”

Sam Abrams, manager of player relations, youth and sports programs for the Detroit Tigers, thinks one of the prime benefits of Batting for Kids is the role it can play in keeping kids active.

“It gives (them) the opportunity to be extremely active for about five-and-a-half hours, where they’re actually out here on the field enjoying themselves.”

This was the first year St. Clair Shores resident Ryan Knaebel attended, and the 7-year-old was rewarded for his efforts by finishing at the top of his age division in batting, which earned him four tickets to a Tigers game and an award, which he is scheduled to receive (along with 42 other children who won an award, including one for good sportsmanship) at a pre-game ceremony July 30 at Comerica Park, when the Tigers are scheduled to face the Washington Nationals.

Although it was his first time being a part of the event, it may not be his last. “It’s fun there,” Knaebel said.

Kenny Swain offered his thoughts as to his favorite part about Batting for Kids.

“Catching, because I can catch the ball real good,” said the 6-year-old Lathrup Village resident.

Assistance from sponsors and volunteers has helped to make the event successful year in and year out.

And while some may get weary after years of being involved with the same project, Gavin-Patterson said that has not been the case with Batting for Kids.

“I think when I look back, one of the things that surprises me is that no one’s tired of it,” she said. “Because even after a decade, you’re kind of like, ‘OK, let’s do something else — something new.’ . . . It’s (the) great leadership of our President (and) CEO Charles Small, Sam Abrams, the Detroit Tigers, Willie Horton. Elaine Lewis (senior vice president of public affairs for the Detroit Tigers) makes sure it happens. The Ilitch family makes sure they fund it. Comerica makes sure they’re involved.”

Proceeds from the event benefit Don Bosco Hall. Those who would like to learn more, including about opportunities to volunteer, or how to sponsor or register a child for next year’s Batting for Kids, can visit donboscohall.org, or call (313) 869-2200.

You can reach C & G Sports Writer Mark Vest at mvest@candgnews.com or at (586)279-1112. Twitter Follow Mark on Twitter.