By Charles Hallman
The big-league Minnesota Twins probably won’t play in any championship games this season, but they recently played host to a slewful of young ball players from across the country and the Caribbean in the 2011 Reviving Baseball in Inner Cities (RBI) World Series.
“You could see the looks on their faces when they went to get their pictures taken on the field,” says MLB Community Affairs Vice-President Thomas Brasuell on the youngsters’ first-time visit to the second-year-old Twins’ downtown Minneapolis ballpark. “This is the absolute best,” says Venice, California shortstop Damon Akins.
“We are really happy and proud to hosting this year’s World Series,” says Minnesota Twins RBI Program Coordinator Frank White.
Over a two-week period (August 2-14), eight age 18-under softball teams, eight junior baseball teams (ages 13-15) and eight senior baseball teams (ages 16-18) played preliminary round games at Neiman Athletic Fields near the airport, Dunning Fields and Toni Stone Field in St. Paul, and downtown Minneapolis’ Parade Stadium.
“The Twin Cities welcomed RBI and these kids with open arms,” RBI Director David James points out.
Los Angeles beat Santo Domingo/San Pedro 3-0 in the RBI softball title game at U of M’s Jane Sage Cowles Stadium August 7, and two baseball title games were played at the Twins ballpark August 14.
The Dominican Republic won its second straight junior division RBI World Series title, defeating Los Angeles 9-6.
Venice outfielder Alex Newman hit a two-run home run over the left field wall as his team knocked off Harrisburg (Pa.) 10-0 in the senior division championship.
“I came into the tournament struggling,” admits Newman, whose homer was only his second tourney hit. “I saw a good pitch, and I put a good swing on it, and it carried.”
RBI was started in 1989 to get more urban youth into baseball and softball. Now there are over 300 RBI leagues in more than 200 cities around the world, including the 30 cities that have Major League Baseball franchises, such as Minnesota.
The Twins have donated over $1 million to both Twin Cities’ parks and recreation departments since 1993 to operate RBI leagues, as well as create and renovate ball fields in Minneapolis and St. Paul.
“Its purpose is to give underserved inner-city kids the chance to play baseball and softball,” notes Brasuell on the national RBI program.
Although more than 190 RBI participants have been drafted by MLB clubs throughout its history, many others earned college scholarships through playing baseball and softball.
“I think the bigger accomplishment for RBI five, 10 years from now [is that] we’ll hear about thousands of RBI graduates that went to college or RBI graduates that became doctors and lawyers. Probably the most important thing that we can do is develop major league citizens,” believes James.
This year’s was the 19th RBI World Series; Brasuell, whose office is responsible for RBI, has attended each one. “It has been in a number of different venues over its 19-year history, and a number of major league ballparks,” he points out.
The Twins will host the 2012 RBI World Series next summer.
“We’re very happy with everything that took place over the last couple of weeks,” admits James. “The kids had a wonderful experience. We got a lot of positive comments about the field, the friendliness of the fans, and the support that’s here in place. We are really looking forward to bigger and better things next year.”
“Next year is the 20th annual, and we will make an even bigger splash next year,” promises White, adding that perhaps the event will attract more local Blacks and other youth of color to get into baseball and softball.
Charles Hallman welcomes reader responses to firstname.lastname@example.org.