6/21/2014 1:39 P.M. ET
PLAY Campaign pays visit to Nationals Park
By Daniel Popper / MLB.com
WASHINGTON -- The National PLAY Campaign came to Nationals Park on Saturday morning, despite wet conditions that forced a change in plans.
Rains from Friday night prevented kids from participating in activities on the field at the stadium, but the event still included three stations.
Head athletic trainer Lee Kuntz led a shuttle-run drill in the Nationals' bullpen, while assistant athletic trainer Steve Gober instructed a stretching routine in the batting cages, and Nats pitchers Aaron Barrett and Tanner Roark talked about a healthy lifestyle, fielded questions and signed hats in the home dugout.
"It's a blast being able to come out here and see all these kids and be able to share our experiences," Barrett said, "help them understand the healthy lifestyle of what it takes to get to this level."
The Professional Baseball Athletic Trainers Society (PBATS) created PLAY (Promoting a Lifetime of Activity for Youth) in 2004 to raise awareness for child health issues in the United States, including obesity. PLAY has traveled to all 30 Major League ballparks and held more than 150 events to reach thousands of kids nationwide since it began.
The Nationals' event on Saturday kicked off with a talk from Brian Parker of the Taylor Hooton Foundation, a non-profit organization that educates on the negative effects of steroid use. The foundation is named after Taylor Hooton, who committed suicide at age 17 after suffering depression related to steroids.
Parker, a childhood friend of Hooton, discussed what steroids are and the debilitating impact they can have on a person's health and lifestyle when abused.
"We're pretty small-knit," Parker said of the foundation. "We're pretty invested in this topic to truly get out there and make sure that kind of situation doesn't happen to others. That education is what leads to prevention."
Kuntz reiterated how crucial it is to provide youngsters with information regarding steroids before it's too late.
"It's vitally important," Kuntz said. "We're in this for the long haul, trying to maintain quality of life throughout your life."
For the first time this year, PBATS teamed up with The Arc, an organization that promotes human rights protection and the inclusion of individuals with disabilities, to broaden the scope of the PLAY Campaign. A group of children from the Washington, D.C. chapter of The Arc attended the Nationals' event on Saturday and participated in all three stations.
"It's exciting that people with disabilities are doing phenomenal things these days," said The Arc District of Columbia chapter executive director Mary Lou Meccariello, who has been with the organization for more than 40 years. "To be included in these kinds of activities, understand baseball and feel like the regular people in the world, it's just a great opportunity."
The rain put a slight damper on Saturday's happenings, but the upbeat attitude from kids, trainers and players allowed for a fun-filled day. And more importantly, the PLAY Campaign was able to portray its important message.
"We had a lot of fun with the kids," Roark said. "We like to inform [them] just how important it is to stay hydrated, stay active, stay healthy and stay positive."