Ryan Yarbrough fondly recalls his mother reading to him each night when he was little and, as he got older, burying himself in magazines such as Sports Illustrated that he and his father enjoyed together.

Ryan Yarbrough Enjoys Giving Back Through Rays’ Reading Program

Ryan Yarbrough fondly recalls his mother reading to him each night when he was little and, as he got older, burying himself in magazines such as Sports Illustrated that he and his father enjoyed together.
Ryan Yarbrough, Credit: Tampa Bay Rays

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. – Ryan Yarbrough fondly recalls his mother reading to him each night when he was little and, as he got older, burying himself in magazines such as Sports Illustrated that he and his father enjoyed together.

“There was a time when I was growing up when my parents, especially my mom, would read a book chapter by chapter every night before bed,” said the Rays pitcher, who was raised in Lakeland. “It became our routine and a way for us to spend time together. With my dad, Sports Illustrated and publications like that were something that we looked forward to getting in the mail.”

Times have changed, but not family habits. Yarbrough and his wife, Nicole, read to their first child, eight-month-old Harper.

“Now, with my daughter, we read to her every night,” he said. “It is something we look forward to and we are creating memories we will look back on.”

The 30-year-old Yarbrough has been creating memories for many youths in the Tampa Bay region the past few years. Through his time and effort with the Reading with the Rays program, he has inspired many youngsters to pick up a book and develop and improve reading habits.

“After doing it once or twice, you see the impact it has, especially the reactions on the kids’ faces as they are brought up on stage,” he said of visits he has made to schools and libraries on behalf of the team.

Launched in 2008, Reading with the Rays is an incentive-based program that encourages pre-kindergarten through 12th-grade students to open a book when school doors close for the summer.

“The reason we created the summer program was because studies showed that teachers were spending weeks, or months, after the summer break re-teaching lessons that kids had learned before the break,” said David Egles, executive director of the Rays Baseball Foundation. “There was a pretty significant case of learning loss happening over the summer.”

The Rays began working with the St. Petersburg Times (now Tampa Bay Times) and the Pinellas County and Hillsborough County public school systems to figure out how to make the summer months productive for students.

Reading with the Rays “We knew we wanted to prevent that summer slide,” said Egles. “We thought what better way to leverage our platform than to use our brand and use our players to show that reading is fun, reading is cool.”
Ryan Yarbrough, Credit: Tampa Bay Rays

“We knew we wanted to prevent that summer slide,” said Egles. “We thought what better way to leverage our platform than to use our brand and use our players to show that reading is fun, reading is cool.”

Today, the program includes the public school and public library systems in a nine-county region. It rewards students, no matter their level of reading ability, who continue to read over the summer.

Prizes — frisbees, bracelets, keychains, vouchers for two tickets to a Rays game – are awarded through the library systems for attaining various levels of reading success during the summer. Egles noted that since Reading with the Rays was launched, the number of students who have participated exceeds 400,000.

Evan Longoria and Chris Archer are among former Rays who participated in the program. Yarbrough, who debuted with the Rays in 2018, has since been the face of the program, including keeping it alive via video from his home during the pandemic.

“Ryan Yarbrough has been fantastic,” said Egles. “Players are role models that kids look up to. So, when players visit a school or a library, they tell kids how important reading is and they enjoy reading. Hearing that from the players, all of sudden, sparks an interest. It’s like, ‘If Ryan Yarbrough likes to read, I should read, too.’”

On Sunday, another summer of Reading with the Rays will launch. Fifty kids are expected to attend an event at Tropicana Field prior to the Rays’ game against the White Sox. It is an afternoon Egles and his staff Rays are excited about, especially with not having held the event on an in-person basis since 2019 due to the pandemic.

Yarbrough is scheduled to pitch Sunday, so the Rays are looking into the possibility of having another player or two participate. Regardless, with summer here and the program launching, Yarbrough will once again be engaged with the reading program, whether it is Sunday before he takes the mound and/or at some point soon.

“I am looking forward to reading and spending time with the kids and getting back to having things the way they were before the pandemic,” he said.

Lending his time to such a community-related cause is something Ryan and Nicole, who is from Orlando, cherish. Born in Texas, Yarbrough’s family returned to Lakeland before he turned two. His parents are originally from the Polk County city, so the region truly is home.

“The biggest thing for me, is how I can help in the community,” he said. “Over the years, my wife and I have tried to give back as much as we can, especially in communities we grew up in. We feel really blessed to be able to give back.”

As they continue to enjoy giving back through the wonderful platform the Rays provide, they continue to cherish priceless moments at home with their little team member.

“What I have been able to do through Reading with the Rays has been really special,” he said. “To also be able to read to our daughter, you understand the impact of it.”

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