ORANGE, Calif. -- The 2010 Major League Baseball Jr. RBI Classic officially kicked off Friday night with a skills session and opening ceremony at Chapman University.
The second annual Jr. Reviving Baseball in Inner Cities (RBI) Classic, which will be held until Monday and features eight baseball teams and four softball teams made up of 11- and 12-year-olds from all around the country, is part of the festivities for All-Star Week that lead up to the 81st annual MLB All-Star Game at Angel Stadium on Tuesday.
The 40-game tournament certainly opened with a bang with a fun-filled skills session hosted by USA Olympic Softball gold medal winner Natasha Watley and recent Angels Draft pick George Barber with the help of the Cal Ripken Sr. Foundation and more than 100 volunteers from KPMG.
"It was awesome," Watley said. "It's what it's all about. I was telling the kids that I remember being a young kid and loving the game and having a passion for it. So to see their excitement and passion is nice."
The participants had a chance to learn drills about nearly every facet of the game with clinics on hitting, fielding and throwing.
It brought back memories for Barber, who has participated in the RBI program in Miami since 2003 and was rewarded by being selected by the Angels in the 2010 First-Year Player Draft last month.
"It's great to help these kids with what I've learned," said Barber, who is one of more than 180 RBI players to have been drafted by a Major League team. "It's all about the kids and helping them. It's a great experience."
And after the skills session, the 12 teams all participated in the opening ceremonies for the tournament with MLB vice president of community affairs Tom Brasuell, Angels community relations coordinator Lindsey McHolm, KMPG RBI partner Mark Thomas and Watley talking to the participants about the program.
It was a fun way to start the tournament for the teams, which hail from Orange County, Calif., Oakland, Chicago, Puerto Rico, Louisiana, Minnesota, Miami/Ft. Lauderdale, Milwaukee, Hawaii, San Diego and Grand Rapids, Mich.
And it was especially exciting for the local Angels' RBI baseball and softball teams because they were the only city to have both a softball and baseball team in the tournament.
"I think it's phenomenal," said Andy Kim, coach for the Angels' RBI baseball team in Orange County. "These younger kids get a great experience with this. They don't care about winning or losing. They just smile and just have fun."
It was also a special tournament for the softball teams involved because this is the first season that softball was part of the Jr. RBI Classic, which was created last year as an expansion of RBI, a program that provides the chance for young people ages 5-to-12 in inner city communities to play baseball and softball.
"It's amazing," said Dianne Suss, coach for the Angels' RBI softball team in Orange County. "They've treated us well from the time we got here. We have nice buses and a great place to say. It's first class."
Friday simply kicked off the friendly tournament, which has much more in store for its participants. In addition to the games, the players will participate in FanFest Legends clinics, receive uniforms, equipment and All-Star Game apparel, and will attend the XM All-Star Futures Game, Taco Bell All-Star Legends & Celebrity Softball Game and the State Farm Home Run Derby.
"This is something they'll never forget," Watley said. "I was telling them to soak it all in because it's is going to fly by with all the fun they're going to have."
Rhett Bollinger is a reporter for MLB.com.