Rays team up to build playground for kids

Club joined by hundreds of volunteers from Tampa Bay area

Rays team up to build playground for kids

Rays outfielder Mallex Smith joined hundreds of Tampa Bay community volunteers from Bank of America, University Area Community Development Corporation, Inc., and KaBOOM! on Friday to break ground on a new playground at University Area Harvest Hope Park to give local children, particularly those growing up in poverty, a safe place to play.

The playground is the eighth of its kind in the Tampa Bay area. Since 1996, KaBOOM! has prided itself on providing children with a life of balance and one that includes sufficient amounts of physical activity. The organization has built, opened or improved nearly 16,700 playgrounds in the United States and served approximately 8.5 million children around the country.

The playground in Harvest Hope Park offers children and families a secure and welcoming place to gather, play and interact while helping Tampa Bay youth build social connections with their peers and encourage them to live a healthy, active lifestyle.

"This is more than just a playground in a park," University Area CDC executive director and CEO Sarah Combs said. "It is a sign of commitment to focus on the health and wellness of our residents, and it says that they deserve to have what other communities have. Seeing these organizations come together and invest in a community that has so little is what real partnership is all about."

This is the seventh consecutive year the Rays have collaborated with KaBOOM! on the project, as the club continues to strengthen its bond in the community through "meaningful interactions and charitable donations."

"This day has the benefit of bringing all of our staff together to work together outside of the office, doing something really good for the community," Rays team president Brian Auld told MLB.com's Bill Chastain. "We divide into teams not based on department, but just randomly. So you get people who don't often get the chance to work together working on things. You get folks having an opportunity to show off some of their specific skill sets that are appropriate to playground-building that people might not know about.

"It winds up being just a ton of fun for our staff, and a great bonding opportunity for us," added Auld, who originally got involved with KaBOOM! when he was working as the lead teacher and director of development at East Palo Alto (Calif.) Charter School. "But I think what makes it all worthwhile is at the end of the day, we look up all of a sudden, and there's a playground for children who otherwise wouldn't have one. And that's a pretty wonderful thing to pull all together."

Oliver Macklin is a reporter for MLB.com based in Washington, D.C. Follow him on Twitter at @basebollie. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.