Legends On Deck

Keep On Playing: Bridging The Gap, With The Love of Baseball

Marnie Schneider with ball players Tyler Kinley and Tyler Bremer from the 2016 Jacksonville Suns and kids from their local Boys and Girls Club in Jacksonville, FL. Image courtesy of Keep on Playing.

Baseball has always been America’s National Pastime but over the years there has been a need for the game to venture out more into the communities. With skyrocketing ticket prices, most times kids in various parts of cities around the United States aren’t able to attend the games, which leaves them without a desire to get involved in baseball. But it only takes an understanding to know what is needed to bridge the gap; enter in Marnie Schneider.

Schneider, a Philadelphia native, has always been driven in her life by sports. She is the granddaughter of former Philadelphia Eagles owner Leonard Tose, who also was a key benefactor in helping to establish the first Ronald McDonald House. She learned from a young age the passion, perseverance and leadership skills that compelled her to carry on her family’s legacy of sports and charity.

The drive to make a difference put her on a mission to give the youth of today a great opportunity to experience childhood through playing baseball. So she decided to bridge the gap and build up great relationships between the professional athletes and the communities they play in by helping kids get excited about the game again. In her efforts to make baseball loved, she created the charity – KEEP on PLAYING.

“I love baseball and it was something the youth in the Minor League Baseball communities seemed to be missing. We focus on bringing baseball to these communities which are often lacking in resources and attention like big cities,” Schneider shared with me as we discussed why she chose to start her charity.

Marnie Schneider attending an Akron Rubber Ducks baseball game with kids from the local Boys and Girls Club in Akron, OH. Image courtesy of Keep on Playing.

Keep on Playing created a partnership with the Boys and Girls club after it was revealed to Schneider that baseball was not a sport that the kids participated in, a sport she felt needed to be part of their daily programs. Her advice to the club and the kids was that, “Baseball takes time and patience to get to the Major League level, you have to Keep On Playing and that trickles down to life. You have to Keep On Playing in life to get anywhere.”

Schneider’s passion can be felt in how she describes their mission, “Keep On Playing is way of life and it’s how you mentally chip along and get through anything and everything to reach your personal goals. By bringing baseball and play and equally important the history and life lessons and traditions of baseball to our youth we are hopeful, that we will be the game changer in youth sports foundations.”

Like many other youth organizations, the main goal is to make a difference while providing a way to educate the kids, which can one day open up many opportunities to a successful future, “We believe that when kids play we all win and sports teach so many life lessons that carry you from childhood to adulthood by simply, Keep On Playing,” says Schneider.

Fort Myers Miracle Players participate in teaching the kids the right way to play baseball. Image courtesy of Keep on Playing.

Many big league professional sports organizations have programs set up to unite the professional athletes with their communities, but that isn’t always the case with minor league clubs, and some kids are left out of experiencing how great the game can truly be in their lives. Schneider explains how her charity makes that happen, “Keep On Playing is different because we are both a comprehensive and consistent youth baseball charity, as we team up with Minor league Baseball Players, and Teams in Minor League Communities that include the youth groups like the Boys and Girls Clubs.”

The commodity of MiLB is amazing, fun and super incredible talent accessible and affordable so having MiLB teams partner up with us it’s a win-win for the community. When kids play we all win! ~ Schneider

Keep on Playing has also continued to build great relationships with a variety of minor league organizations which include, the Jacksonville Jumbo Shrimp (formerly the Suns) Double-A affiliate of the Miami Marlins, the Fort Myers Miracle, Class-A Advanced affiliate of the Minnesota Twins and the Akron Rubber Ducks, Double-A affiliate of the Cleveland Indians.  But it doesn’t stop there as Schneider shares, “We also were at both the Florida State League and Eastern League All Star Games as we worked with 580 youth and 36 MiLB players in 2016.”

Schneider continues, “Now going into 2017 we are adding in a few more MiLB teams and communities. We have a great product and take a hands on approach so scalable growth is about not diluting the program. It’s very important to Keep On Playing that we bring into every community the same energy and excitement for what we are doing.”

With the success of Keep on Playing there is always that wonder how the kids truly feel about the program. “The kids in the community are our report cards and they have given us very good grades, all of us from the teams and their employees, coaches, players. Parents in the community, BGC directors and their volunteers and so many others all work very hard during the season to make sure that the kids have a great time with the Keep On Playing Program,” shares Schneider.

Marnie Schneider watching a baseball game accompanied by kids from a Boys and Girls Club. Image courtesy of Keep on Playing.

It is truly evident that Schneider and Keep on Playing are making a huge difference in the lives of the youth and their communities. Even more confirmation was a message she received recently from James Warner II, Director of the LeBron James Club in Akron, OH:

“Kids are bringing gloves from home and playing catch outside during free time now, even some kids who were not at the games or clinic. This has never happened in the five years that we have been open. Baseball is cool to them now.”

I reached out to Mr. Warner II, and he shared with me what two Club kids had to say about their amazing experience from the Summer 2016 program after participating in the Keep on Playing camp:

“I like baseball. I learned how to hold and swing a bat to make the ball go far.” Jacob M. (age 12)

“It’s cool that pitchers hold the ball in different ways to get different throws. My favorite glove at the Club is signed by Cal Ripkin, Jr. He was a beast at this game! I looked his name up online.” James C. (age 12)

Like any other organization, each have goals to attain, I asked Schneider what are some goals that she sets forth for her team, “We work with kids mostly ages 8-13 and our goals are to get kids to Keep On Playing consistently and also to make them fans of the game. Long term, if kids start to play baseball and they Keep On Playing they can be on a team in school and that may lead to college and who knows. We want to give youth some fun through childhood play. Things are not as simple as they used to be and that’s why grabbing a baseball and glove and a friend to go play catch gives us a chance to dream. We can create our own story line and once you imagine it, then it can become a reality.”

The main part of the program is bridging the gap with the ball players and Schneider explains that aspect as well, “The players are great, they love it. They all say the same thing that it reminds them how much FUN Baseball is, especially since being a pro has its challenges so there’s a meditation proverb that says ‘When things are in total disarray, play with joyful children.’

Schneider continues, “We updated it to, ‘When things are in total disarray, KEEP ON PLAYING with Joyful Children.’ “It’s always the same thing….we are told the players only have an hour for each clinic….after two hours they’re still not ready to leave. They bond with the kids and have fun too.”

The players have also become a major part of the program not only playing with the kids but becoming true mentors to the club. Keep on Playing helps with that by highlighting some ball players, who are picked by their organizations or volunteer and are placed within their local Boys and Girls club. They also have their photo attached to the Keep on Playing Core Values which are placed on the walls of the club.

Image courtesy of Keep on Playing.

Some of the ball players that participated in 2016 included Trey Vavra, Nick Gordon, and Edgar Corcino of the Fort Myers Miracle, Bryson Myles, Jordan Smith and Jeremy Lucas of the Akron Rubber Ducks, Hartford Yard Goats German Marquez, Raimel Tapia and Pat Valaika, and Jacksonville Suns Tyler Bremer and Tyler Higgins, along with Higgins puppy Emma.

Tyler Bremer shared with me the biggest thing that he took away from participating in the Keep on Playing camp in Jacksonville, Florida last summer, “There are a lot of kids that are not familiar with the game of baseball. Growing up in the inner cities, I think some grow up idolizing athletes in Football and Basketball, or sports that can relate more to, but when we show up, kids are a bit timid and they are not sure if they will be good at catching, throwing or hitting a baseball, but after a few hours have past, the kids truly have a blast and they want to keep on playing.”

Bremer continued, “I feel it’s really a testament to Marnie’s energy and passion to the program and a great initiative. She just wants the kids to realize that baseball is a great outlet for them and if they want they can do great things in baseball. With this game the kids can set goals and accomplish something like possibly getting a scholarship to college, which can make a huge difference in their lives.”

Schneider does understand that it isn’t just about connecting with the kids while they are in the clubs, but also connecting with their families which truly builds a trusted bond, “The best part is every time we go to a new city we learn something different and make friends with the moms. I think that’s what makes us different is that the moms, which we connect with, fully trust us with their babies.”

Schneider continues, “Plus we are building a sustainable charity that has a deep impact in the communities and one that will bring the youth and the families back to and Keep On Playing Baseball.”

Keep on Playing truly understands what it takes to reach out and make a difference in the lives of the kids and their families as they also keep in contact with them during the baseball off-season, “We send out our monthly Tips from the Pros, do World Series viewing parties for the kids and we prepared a Back To Baseball Spring Training fun facts,” says Schneider.

Marnie Schneider with the 2016 Akron Rubber Ducks ball players, D.J. Brown, Rob Kaminsky, Robbie Aviles, and Jeremy Lucas, GM Jim Pfander and team mascot along with James Warner II, Director, Lebron James Club in Akron, OH. Image Courtesy of Keep on Playing.

The most important aspect of this amazing program is building a love for the game that can last a lifetime, “We see how much fun it is to take a child to a pro game for the first time and then to watch them want to learn and play baseball. By the time they go to another game they’re fans of the game.”

Bremer shared how just having a kid attend a game can make a huge difference in how he/she sees baseball, “I remember we left tickets for a kid to attend our game, and then we received a letter from him saying how much fun he had with us and how excited he was for his mom to sign him up to play little league and has a new passion in his life.”

Steve Gliner, who is currently the President of the Hudson Valley Renegades, was the first organization that got involved with Keep on Playing while he was President of the Fort Myers Miracle. Gliner shared how Schneider’s dedication to the program truly shows, “When I think of Marnie Schneider and Keep On Playing, the word “Passion” with a capital “P” immediately comes to mind. Marnie cares so deeply about the kids and the communities that her program impacts. In Fort Myers, from the very first day she arrived, she hit the ground running, meeting the key people in the Boys and Girls Club who would help get the program started. She reached out to community leaders and media members. She connected with our players who became part of the fabric of what Keep On Playing stands for. She reached out to MiLB and educated them about her program and in turn, they helped her expand it into other MiLB markets.”

Gliner continues, “Her passion to impact kids and communities is second to none…. The Keep On Playing program has already positively impacted hundreds of kids in several communities and it is exciting to know that it will continue to grow and have the same positive impact in other communities across the country.”

I absolutely love being associated with someone like Marnie because she truly cares. ~ Steve Gliner 

Keep on Playing is all about making it fun for the kids and they believe that is the make up of a successful program. And in 2017 they still have more to come, “This coming season will bring more teams and a very exciting partnership, that adds in more history of baseball and The Negro Leagues History, which is super important to carry on the legacy of what players did to Keep On Playing baseball,” says Schneider.

Schneider understands that a successful program needs a great team to make it all happen, “Slow and steady we Keep On Playing. That being said, we love help and volunteers and anyone who wants to be on The Keep On Playing Team.”

She also believes that growth only comes from great people on their side, “Keep On Playing thanks everyone for being supportive of us as we grow and can give more and more youth and communities the opportunity to PLAY BALL!”

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David Conde
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