Yankees first baseman Mark Teixeira knows he’s lucky to play baseball for a living. So when he’s not working in the Bronx, he’s using the sport he loves to help kids just over the borough border in Manhattan.
As a board member of Harlem RBI, Teixeira is part of an organization that uses baseball to provide inner-city kids with opportunities to enrich their lives and build their futures. In 2014, the program boasted two impressive stats: 93 percent of its seniors were on track to graduate high school, and all of them have received college acceptance letters.
Harlem RBI celebrated its 2014 seniors — and raised some money for its programs — at its annual Bids for Kids gala, held last month at the posh Cipriani 42nd Street in Manhattan. At the event, SI Kids spoke with Teixeira to find out more about Harlem RBI, his involvement with the organization, and how the kids act with a Yankee hanging around their clubhouse.
How did you get involved with Harlem RBI?
When I got to New York in 2009, I spent about a year looking at different organizations. I definitely wanted to get involved. My sister actually worked for KPMG, which was a big sponsor of Harlem RBI, and she said, “You need to look at Harlem RBI.” And as soon as I met Harlem RBI – met the kids and the leadership – I knew it was a perfect organization to get involved with.
I know it’s grown a lot since you’ve been involved. What’s your involvement been like in that and what’s it like for you to be a part of that growth?
I think the cool thing is we have a lot of momentum right now. That’s the best word I could use. We built a school — our school will be done in January, a brand new building for Harlem RBI and DREAM Charter School. It seems like the organization gets bigger every year, and we have more and more supporters every year, so that’s the exciting part about Harlem RBI, that we continue to grow, we continue to have that momentum.
It’s been announced that 93 percent of the high school seniors in the Harlem RBI program graduated or are on track to graduate and all of them have received college acceptance letters. As somebody who’s part of this, what’s that like to see that kind of result?
The most important thing for me is that kids get an opportunity to succeed. Going to college is obviously a huge opportunity. So 95 percent of these kids are going to college. That’s a great number in East Harlem. Fifty percent of the kids drop out of high school in East Harlem, and these kids are thriving. More importantly, they’re coming back to the community after college to give back, whether it’s working at Harlem RBI or interning during the summertime or just volunteering for nights to play baseball or softball, these kids are coming back and making a difference in their community.
When these kids first get in the program and they see big-league guys like you getting involved, what’s their reaction?
At first they think it’s really cool that a Yankee is hanging out. After a while, they just become like buddies. They’re like, “Oh, I’ve seen you before,” and “That’s Mark again,” and it’s really cool to see kids who don’t necessarily see me as Mark the Yankee. They see me as a guy who supports Harlem RBI, which is the way I want them to see me.
What does baseball specifically give to kids in this situation to help them get to a point where they can say they’re going to college?
Baseball and softball, that’s the hook at Harlem RBI. You have to do your schoolwork, you have to behave – all those things that kids are supposed to do off the field – to make sure you can play on the field. The reason the kids love baseball is it’s a huge team game. There are opportunities to win or lose, fail or succeed every day, so it teaches them a lot of life lessons. You have to be involved. It’s not like soccer or other sports where you can sit off to the side or not be a part of the game. Someone’s going to hit you the ball, or you’re going to have to get up to the plate and hit. So baseball is just one of those sports that really builds character in kids.
When these kids see you and they say they want to be a Yankee or a professional ball player, what do you tell them?
You know, not a lot of kids say they want to be professional players. The kids are saying they want to be doctors and lawyers and teachers, and that’s what we want. It’s a dream, but it’s very tough to become a professional athlete. I’ve always said professional athletes get chosen. Kids don’t choose to be professional athletes. It’s a God-given ability, and I’ve been very fortunate to be one of the chosen ones to be able to play baseball because it’s really difficult to do. These kids understand that. They understand it’s not easy to play the game and they just want to go out there and have fun.
Photos courtesy Harlem RBI