I love baseball and I have been able to play in both Little League and Pony League. I also play on a travel team. I cannot imagine not having a place to play or not having my bat and glove. But for many kids in inner cities, it's not so easy to go and play ball.
But thanks to Major League baseball’s RBI Program, there's an opportunity for them.
You might think RBI means "runs batted in" or is a video game. But in this case, it stands for Reviving Baseball in Inner Cities. The MLB RBI Program gives kids the chance to play baseball, love the game, and learn from it.
The program was founded in 1989 in South Central Los Angeles by former MLB player and scout John Young to help increase inner-city involvement in baseball. Today, more than 200,000 kids a year from underserved communities around all 30 MLB Clubs participate in the program. There are also leagues in the Caribbean and in Latin America, as well as girls softball leagues.
Like other leagues, RBI teaches kids how to play the game, compete, and the value of teamwork. There'a also an RBI World Series that is supported by MLB. Those games were played last week, and Jackie Robinson RBI of Jersey City, New Jersey, won the Senior Division Championship, Miami Marlins RBI won the Junior Baseball Division, and RBI Santo Domingo won the Softball Championship.
But there's more to the RBI program than winning titles. It also encourages academic achievement and provides other off-the-field opportunities, like providing a character education program based on the values Jackie Robinson lived by to overcome obstacles. There are other learning and scholarship opportunities for RBI kids, too.
Some great players have played in RBI leagues, like Carl Crawford, Covelli "Coco" Crisp, James Loney, Jimmy Rollins, CC Sabathia, Yovani Gallardo, Justin Upton, and James McDonald.
The Experience of a Lifetime
This year, eight RBI youth baseball teams and four softball teams from the U.S. and Canada (ages 11 and 12) were given the opportunity to go to Minneapolis to play in the 6th Annual Jr. RBI Classic during All-Star week. These teams were getting to play “friendly“ Round Robin games at fields around the city. All of the uniforms and equipment were provided by MLB.
The teams also experienced staying in dorms on a college campus so that they could see what college life is like. They also had a chance to attend the 2014 MLB All-Star Week events like FanFest, the Futures Game, All-Star Legends & Celebrity Softball Game, the Home Run Derby, and a skills clinic held by the Cal Ripken Sr. Foundation. The players also helped out others by participating in a community service project with Kids Against Hunger to pack meals for the needy.
Senior director of the MLB RBI program David James explained to me that MLB wants to give these kids a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity in the hopes to inspire them to go to college and to also see beyond the baseball field.
“When we bring kids to events like this and hear their stories, like riding on a plane for the first time and seeing them all march on the field as part of the pre-game ceremonies, these are experiences that they will remember for the rest of their lives,” James said.
I talked to one of the RBI coaches, Richard Jones and his son Chase from the Lancaster Texas RBI Program about RBI and their experience to Minneapolis. They both enjoyed the experience very much.
Richard said his favorite part of the trip was seeing the Legends and Celebrity Softball Game and watching Greg Reynolds, a Wounded Warrior Veteran who lost his arm, catch a ball in the outfield, “throw down his glove, and then gun it to second base.” Chase also enjoyed meeting all the different players and people they had a chance to meet.
When I asked Chase what he loves about baseball, he said, "Being with my teammates.”
I think that's what most players think, and that's what makes the game fun. You can’t play or win without a team. And the RBI program is giving kids the opportunity to be part of some of the best teams around.
Photos: MLB/Getty Images