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06/12/08 12:15 AM ET

Reds, Bench kick off summer league

Youth baseball program serves over 1,500 Cincinnati-area kids

CINCINNATI -- Catching legend Johnny Bench joined in the effort to kick off the beginning of the Reds Rookie Success League summer baseball program on Tuesday.

Bench presented new baseball equipment donated by DHL to children from local Boys & Girls Clubs, marking the beginning of the program's sixth season. It is operated by the Reds Community Fund.

"These youngsters are ready -- they want a glove, they want a ball, they want a bat," Bench said. "We want to give them an opportunity. This is going to be a very successful effort, and the Reds have proved that. It's an honor to be here as a part of this and be there as these young children grow up."

Bench, a first-ballot Hall of Famer, was a catcher for the Reds' 1975 and '76 World Series teams. A 14-time All-Star selection, he was also the 1976 World Series MVP.

Bench rode passenger as three DHL trucks drove onto Rockdale and Harvey Field and presented the nearly 200 children in attendance with gloves, balls and bats.

"This is great," said Carl Jones, athletic director for the Boys & Girls Club. "These kids are ready to go out, play some baseball and have fun. This is not something that happens every day."

The Reds Rookie Success League, a co-ed character-building summer baseball program, serves more than 1,500 kids in the Cincinnati area.

"What a lot of people have not realized is what the Reds Community Fund has done," Bench said. "They're bringing sports, teamwork and responsibility to these young kids."

Brandon Harris is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.