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RBI youth share big league dreams at Dodger Stadium

Participants, instructors feel Jackie Robinson's impact on game, life

LOS ANGELES -- Sunday afternoon at Dodger Stadium, home of the team for whom Jackie Robinson scripted history, was proof of the lasting legacy of No. 42 -- not only in baseball but throughout American communities, as well.

Nearly 250 children from area schools were on hand for the Jackie Robinson Day RBI (Reviving Baseball in Inner Cities) Youth Clinic at Dodger Stadium, where they participated in various on-field drills and spent time learning from Dodgers legends.

Sharon Robinson, Jackie's daughter, spoke to the children before they split up into groups to work on fielding, hitting and throwing drills. She stressed the importance of an education, and she reinforced the legacy of equality left by her late father, whose No. 42 was retired across all of Major League Baseball in an unprecedented tribute in 1997, under the diretion of Commissioner Bud Selig.

"My father was very devoted to young people and development, as is our family," Sharon said. "So to see them come out and be on a big league field as little children, I hope they're inspired that they can grow up and do whatever they want to do.

"We're not just saying they'll be baseball players, but we want them to believe in themselves and know they can achieve whatever their goals are."

The mission of the RBI program is to "increase participation and interest in baseball and softball among underserved youth" and to "teach the value of teamwork."

The event was run in part by Dodgers alumni Maury Wills, Tommy Davis, Al Downing, Kenny Landreaux, "Sweet" Lou Johnson, Dennis Powell and Derrel Thomas.

Hall of Fame third baseman Frank Robinson, Major League Baseball's first black manager, also spoke to the children before the clinic, noting the impact Jackie had on his own path.

He recalled the final time the two spoke.

"The last thing I remember him saying was in Cincinnati, standing on the third-base line," Robinson told the kids. "He said, 'I'll be happy when there is a black face in that dugout as the manager of a baseball club.' I was fortunate enough a few years later to become the first black manager in baseball, and to this day, everything I do in baseball or make a move in life, I thank him for it. He set the standards."

Robinson was impressed by the opportunity the young children were presented with on Sunday -- the chance to use big league facilities and to receive instruction from 25 volunteer coaches from local high school teams.

"When I was playing and coming along, we didn't have this type of setting," he said. "We had to find a field, and then hope there were no holes out there. So, this is a tremendous event."

RBI director David James, who puts togther events like Sunday's, said this one was a little special, given the setting of Dodger Stadium on a weekend that marked the release of the movie "42," and a day before Major League Baseball will celebrate Jackie Robinson Day.

"This one's a little bit different because of the significance of the movie and the significance that Jackie meant," James said. "I sort of feel like this is an opportunity to jump start a whole new generation of kids. It was sort of a perfect storm this weekend in terms of how it all played out."

Sharon Robinson, the vice chair of the Jackie Robinson foundation, agreed.

"This is home to me, the Dodgers are our team, and it's wonderful to come home and to see my father celebrated with young kids playing the game," she said. "It really is a great event."

AJ Cassavell is a reporter for Follow him on Twitter @ajcassavell.

Los Angeles Dodgers