Coaching Management, 13.2, February 2005, http://www.momentummedia.com/articles/cm/cm1302/bbcoachesserve.htm
Reports of the death of baseball among young people in urban areas have been greatly exaggerated. Since starting in Los Angeles in 1989, Reviving Baseball in Inner Cities (RBI) has spread to 185 cities around the country, and is bringing baseball and softball to more than 100,000 boys and girls each year. Run by Major League Baseball in partnership with the Boys & Girls Clubs of America, RBI has expanded its focus to create rural and suburban leagues, along with bringing programs to military bases and Indian reservations.
“We’re looking to increase minority participation at all levels of the game, both on and off the field,” says Tom Brasuell, Vice President of Community Affairs for MLB. “Kids who want to play baseball and softball can’t always purchase the equipment they need. So we provide that funding, along with an educational component that includes both academics and life skills.”
Start-up leagues qualify for a $5,000 grant from MLB, which spends over $1 million on the program each year to start programs and expand existing ones. Along with providing opportunities to play baseball, the program hosts an annual RBI World Series, with championships for junior boys (13-15 years old), senior boys (16-18 years old), and girls’ softball (15-18 years old). RBI also offers classes in college and job preparation, time management, life skills, drug/alcohol/tobacco education, and HIV/AIDS prevention.
The leagues typically operate from May through August, though some chapters have developed additional programs that run year-round. Harlem RBI, one of the oldest and most successful leagues, currently serves 450 boys and girls, starting with a summer T-ball program for seven- and eight-year-olds and a summer baseball and literacy camp for nine- to 12-year-olds. Their year-round program serves 13- to 18-year-olds, with baseball and softball teams for each age group.
NCAA recruiting guidelines make it difficult for college coaches to become regularly involved with a particular RBI program, and though most RBI leagues would welcome high school coaches, the positions are generally unpaid. But Berlin encourages coaches at every level to help start RBI leagues in new cities and towns and work with area Boys and Girls Clubs to create mentoring relationships with local RBI coaches—volunteers who may lack extensive experience teaching a sport.
“We’d like college coaches to know that there are resources for players in inner cities, and that there are plenty of kids capable of excelling at the collegiate level,” says Rich Berlin, Executive Director of Harlem RBI, whose league plans to open a new baseball field this summer. “We’d like high school coaches to know that we consider ourselves partners with them. Our job is to develop young people.”
For more information on Reviving Baseball in Inner Cities, go to www.mlb.com and click on “MLB in the Community.”