Flouting the long-standing association between baseball and tobacco, minor-league ball players are visiting Connecticut schools to tell students that cigarettes and other tobacco products are not cool.

The program is designed to reach more than 15,000 kids in almost 100 schools by May, Norwich Navigators general manager Brian Mahoney said Tuesday. The Navigators are spearheading the program along with Connecticut’s other two Double-A Eastern League teams, the New Britain Rock Cats and the New Haven Ravens.

The education program, which is being funded by a $150,000 state grant, is a tie-in to the National Tobacco Free Double A All-Star Game, which is being held in Norwich this year.

“This year’s All-Star experience is far more than just a baseball game,” Mahoney said. “For us, it’s a forum to deliver a strong and positive message about something that has had such a negative stigma on the great game of baseball.”

The Eastern League prohibits players from using any tobacco products, including chewing tobacco, in its ballparks. The Navigators’ park, Dodd Stadium in Norwich, will be an entirely smoke-free facility as of April 12, Mahoney said.

Attorney General Richard Blumenthal, whose lawsuit against five major tobacco companies four years ago led to the settlement, was optimistic about the effectiveness of the educational program.

“No message means more than a baseball hero reaching out, heart and soul, to tell kids that smoking kills,” Blumenthal said.

–Associated Press