High schoolers eager for Reds Futures Showcase

CINCINNATI -- Although the Reds -- and Major League Baseball -- would love to unearth a future Hall of Famer at events like this year's sixth annual Reds Futures High School Showcase, there certainly is far more to the event than that.

Even in a region like Cincinnati that is often rich in baseball talent (see Benintendi, Andrew), the broader goal for the participating teams and players is the experiences gained and the lessons learned. And for the Reds, it's yet another initiative to help grow the sport in the local community while enriching the lives of young people.

"I think it would be great if one of these teams produced the next Barry Larkin or Ken Griffey Jr., but that's rare," Castellini said. "What really counts is putting the character in these kids and teaching them the value of being part of a team."

That's the overriding objective for the Reds' Urban Youth Academy, the result of an $8 million community investment. Since opening in September 2014, it has welcomed more than 44,000 kids to take part in various baseball clinics and play in more than 1,500 games on four state-of-the-art fields.

For the past six springs, the Reds Futures High School Showcase has served as a signature event for the Cincinnati Reds Community Fund.

This year's showcase will take place from April 1-24 at many of the region's finest baseball and softball facilities, including the Urban Youth Academy in Cincinnati, Prasco Park in Mason, Ohio, Midland Baseball Complex in Batavia, Ohio, and Meinken All-Star Field in Covington, Ky.

Ten teams will play games at Great American Ball Park on April 7 and 8 during "Big League Weekend."

"This is a pillar of what we do," said Charley Frank, executive director of the Reds Community Fund. "It's a very unique undertaking."

And it keeps getting bigger and better.

What began with 50 teams in 2012 will expand to 84 clubs this year. Softball was added last year, and it will expand this year to 10 teams and five games.

For the second straight year, two baseball doubleheaders will be played in Dayton at Wright State University.

Five games will be played at renovated Meinken Field in the northern Kentucky community of Covington, a ballpark dedicated during Major League Baseball's All-Star Week in 2015, when Cincinnati hosted the Midsummer Classic.

Few, if any, of the participating players will reach the Major Leagues, so for those teams fortunate enough to play at Great American Ball Park, it's a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.

"We were in the first high school game played at Great American Ball Park," said Harrison (Ohio) Wildcats head coach Shawn Sowders of the 2015 game versus Oak Hills (Cincinnati). "We had the best attendance we've ever had in the weight room and more competition for the varsity baseball [roster] in the last 30 years. Everybody wanted to make the team and be part of it."

Tickets for the Reds Futures High School Showcase games are $5 and good for all games on that day. Each ticket includes a voucher good for a free View Level ticket to select 2017 Reds home games at Great American Ball Park and also includes a coupon for one free Skyline chili cheese coney. Advance tickets can be purchased at each of the participating schools. Tickets will also be available on game days at each of the ballparks.

For the complete schedule and other information, visit reds.com/HSShowcase.

All players and coaches in his year's Showcase will be invited to GABP on Sunday, April 23, to participate in a "March at the Majors" parade around the field prior to the Reds vs. Chicago Cubs game at 1:10 p.m ET. The most valuable players from each game will be recognized on the field during pregame ceremonies.

On Wednesday afternoon at the Urban Youth Academy, coaches representing the participating schools in the Futures High School Showcase took part in a luncheon and press conference to launch the event. Beforehand, a few of the coaches got to take their hacks against Reds Hall of Fame pitcher Tom Browning.

Once the showcase kicks off April 1, the coaches say it's all about the players.

"You're playing on the best fields in the city, and you'll look up and see 1,500 to 2,000 people in the stands," said Lakota West coach Greg Leurck. "It's the best environment I've ever coached in. It's a great experience, and that's what you want for your players as a coach … the memory of a lifetime."

Jeff Wallner is a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.