NEW HOPE, Minn. -- Since its inception more than 20 years ago, Reviving Baseball in Inner Cities has given more than one million kids a chance to play baseball and softball. With this year's RBI World Series marking the 20th anniversary of the event, it was the players' turn to give back on Friday.
More than 150 RBI World Series softball players and coaches took part in two community service events on Friday. Baseball players and coaches participated in similar activities last week, marking the first time in RBI World Series history that Major League Baseball spent a day educating players about the importance of community service.
RBI director David James said he and other program officials developed the idea while brainstorming ways to make the RBI World Series' 20th anniversary a special one.
"We thought this was so important, even though these kids are coming from underserved communities," James said. "But they've been very fortunate -- the efforts of the local RBI leagues, the parents, other people involved in their lives. And as they move on to the next phase in their life, it's important for them to remember the opportunities that they were given by somebody else. We thought it was very important to commemorate the 20-year anniversary with these kids giving back also and helping the next generation."
Half of the players and coaches gathered at Value Village Thrift Store in Brooklyn Center, Minn., preparing donated clothing and household products for sale to benefit The ARC Greater Twin Cities -- an organization helping people with intellectual and developmental disabilities and their families.
The rest converged in New Hope to pack nutritious meals for Kids Against Hunger, a food-aid organization designed to feed children around the world.
"We worked very closely with the Twins and their community fund staff to get a sense of the local organization charities in the Twin Cities area that may not be just impacting the local area, but on a worldwide basis," James said.
Equipped with hairnets, girls from teams across the United States, as well as the Dominican Republic, teamed up to pack meals assembly-line style.
Big Island RBI (Hilo, Hawaii) coach James Hirayama -- in his fourth trip to an RBI World Series -- noted the smiles on his players' faces.
"I think it's a great opportunity basically for the kids to understand that everyone can make a difference," Hirayama said. "Even if your part of the world, your town -- everything looks good in Hawaii, it's always pretty. But someone in the world is hungry and needs something."
The RBI World Series' involvement with community service won't end with this year's 20th anniversary. James said similar activities will take place at future events.
"With the response that we've gotten, both from the kids and the organizations involved -- this is something that's going to become a staple of the program," James said.
James is hopeful players will be empowered by the experience and want to give back as they continue into the next phases of their lives. Cleveland RBI coach Kathryn Bzdafka said her squad has already discussed holding softball clinics, with players volunteering to help out.
Said Bzdafka, "It's something that we need to start doing in our own city."
Jordan Garretson is an associate reporter for MLB.com.