There were no ticker-tape parades. Champagne celebrations were replaced by juice-box jubilation. And everyone present played for the love of the game, nothing more.
Over the past couple weeks, more than two hours from the closest big league ballpark, some of the most talented youth baseball and softball players from around the world took the field for the 27th annual Reviving Baseball in Inner Cities (RBI) World Series. All the games were played at renovated Holman Stadium at the Jackie Robinson Training Complex in Vero Beach, Fla., the famed tournament’s new permanent home.
Leading off was the baseball tournament, which saw an undefeated Arizona RBI squad (5-0) take the Senior Division (ages 16-18) crown with a 4-2 win over the Miami Marlins RBI team last Friday. The Junior Division (ages 13-15) crown was claimed by the Chicago White Sox RBI program, which beat the Miami Marlins club.
The softball tournament (18U) followed, with Houston RBI finishing at the top after a 10-3 victory against Harrisburg (Pa.) on Thursday.
“I think the RBI World Series was a resounding success,” said David James, MLB’s vice president of baseball and softball development. “It was an opportunity for kids from all over to meet. The kids’ sportsmanship was great, and the level of play was outstanding.”
Don’t misconstrue this fulsome praise as undeserved hype. The RBI program is known for churning out talent, to the point that you could field an All-Star roster with their alumni. Graduates include Justin Upton, Jackie Bradley Jr. and Eloy Jimenez in the outfield, Anthony Rendon, J.P. Crawford and Ozzie Albies on the infield dirt and Chris Iannetta behind the dish. Throw in CC Sabathia, as well as Hector Santiago, on the mound, and you have a squad few would wish to face.
One theme from that group -- besides its obvious talent -- is its diverse cultural background. Consider that a proud feature of the RBI program, which was designed to even the playing field so young people from underserved and diverse communities can play competitive baseball and softball.
How many does RBI assist? Just look at the stats, which are mind boggling. Founded in 1989, the program provides opportunities to more than 165,000 underprivileged youth from over 200 cities.
“I think there is more work to be done to grow the program, but we have been happy to see how it has been embraced by communities committed to ensuring that every kid has a chance to play,” James said.
As you can expect with a tournament of this nature, the wins and losses matter to an extent. But what really resonates are the people and the stories behind the stats. Let’s look at some of the best the World Series had to offer:
Houston throws no-hitter
Few accomplishments compare favorably to the no-hitter, a true act of dominance. To begin their incredible tournament run, the Houston Astros RBI softball program beat the Cincinnati Reds RBI, 13-0, in a four-inning run-rule affair. Leading the way from the mound was Dani Moreno, who fanned 11 en route to a no-no and immortalizing herself in RBI World Series lore.
A reunion to remember
Morris Jones, a Durham RBI coach, and Cory Douglass, a Cleveland RBI coach, represent two of the many who have helped make the RBI program the rousing success it is, devoting countless hours to mentoring young minds on and off the field. Both men, as it turned out, have been there and won that at the RBI World Series, having played on the same Cleveland RBI squad some years ago. Then, both boys, now, both men, the duo dreamed of a scenario in which they would face off in opposite dugouts.
"That's kind of unique, kind of wild, honestly," Douglass said. "We texted each other during regions, 'How cool would it be if we both made it to the World Series? How cool would it be if we played each other for the championship?'"
"The program helped me out so much, I was able to earn a [college] scholarship through RBI," Jones said. "They asked me what school I wanted to apply to."
A stellar athlete himself, Jones said he had no intentions of going to college and was sure he'd be drafted right out of high school.
"That wasn't the case, but they made sure I had a backup plan," Jones said. "I had people in my corner. I graduated from college [in 2014 from North Carolina Central] and decided I wanted to do the same thing and give back to the same program that gave me a chance."
Jennie Finch Award goes to deserving recipient
Valarie Orona, a member of the Angels RBI team, was shocked when her name was announced as the winner of the Jennie Finch Empowerment Award presented by Arm & Hammer, with Finch making the presentation herself.
“I was surprised. I was like, ‘Whoa, that was crazy,'” said Orona, whose squad finished fourth. "I was looking around and going, ‘Is it me?’ and everyone looked at me. Then I realized it was me."
A $5,000 donation to the MLB Youth Foundation was made in Orona’s name, and the 17-year-old Anaheim native will be a guest of Finch’s and make an on-field appearance at Game 4 of the 2019 World Series.
Finch’s name is synonymous with softball, with the collegiate softball champion and Olympic gold medalist serving as the sport’s ultimate ambassador.
Puerto Rico represented
From Seattle to South Florida and Southern California to South Boston, the RBI program has a special ability to elevate young baseball fans around the U.S. That reach does not stop at the continental borders, either, as RBI clubs can be found everywhere from Puerto Rico to the Dominican Republic and even Uganda.
“It’s been a great experience,” Carolina pitcher Henry Nunez said of his time at the tournament. “Being in Puerto Rico, the stuff has happened in Puerto Rico and being here is different, and knowing new people from different states is very cool.”
Carolina PR RBI made its presence known, sending teams from the Junior and Senior Divisions all the way to the World Series. On the softball side, Barahona, Dominican Republic, came up from the Caribbean to represent.
“Obviously, RBI is, at its core, a program designed to help underserved communities and kids,” James said. “The support from the MLB Clubs has been incredible and gives us an opportunity to paint with a wide brush and provide support.
“If kids have the competitive desire, the tournament opportunity should be there for them.”
RBI Coach of the Year Award Unveiled
The RBI program would not be possible without the time, insight and generosity donated by countless volunteer coaches, who have a unique ability to make a major impact in their players’ lives. While picking a “best” coach is nearly impossible, the RBI program and the Positive Coaching Alliance unveiled a new Coach of the Year initiative that will honor one coach who exemplifies the integrity, character and leadership traits seen throughout the program.
Submissions can be completed here, and the winning nominee will earn two tickets to a 2019 World Series game.