(Reuters) - Hall of Famer Cal Ripken, Jr. has been named special advisor to the Commissioner on youth programs and outreach, Major League Baseball chief Rob Manfred announced on Monday at the annual winter meetings in Nashville.
Ripken will advise Commissioner Manfred and MLB's Youth Programs Department on strategies and initiatives aimed at growing baseball and softball.
A particular focus will be placed on ways to provide access to quality playing opportunities for children in underserved communities.
"Major League Baseball is thrilled to appoint Cal Ripken, Jr., a legend of our game and an expert in the youth space, to this new role, which will help us further address our most significant goal," Manfred said in a statement.
Said Ripken: "MLB and I have shared this passion, and I look forward to working with all of the youth baseball and softball organizations, as well as the major league clubs, to get more athletes from all walks of life enjoying the game that I love so much."
Among other initiatives, over the past 25 years MLB has administered the Reviving Baseball in Inner Cities (RBI) program, which reaches over 230,000 boys and girls in the U.S. and in Canada, Puerto Rico, the Dominican Republic, Venezuela and Curaçao.
Since 2006, young people have had the opportunity to receive free, year-round baseball and softball instruction through the MLB Urban Youth Academy network with five academies operating in the U.S. and three more facilities under development.
Ripken, who starred as a power-hitting shortstop and third baseman for the Baltimore Orioles, has funneled his passion for the game into Ripken Baseball and the Cal Ripken, Sr. Foundation.
Ripken Baseball runs youth baseball and softball programs and tournaments across the country and at three Ripken Experience complexes in Maryland, South Carolina and Tennessee.
The foundation uses baseball-based programs as a hook to engage young people in underserved communities and they have built more than 50 multi-purpose fields across the country, in areas of need that give kids safe places to play.
(Reporting by Larry Fine in New York; Editing by Mark Lamport-Stokes)