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ROIT -- The goal of Major League Baseball's RBI (Reviving Baseball in Inner Cities) initiative is to teach underserved youth all across the country two things: baseball and character.
It did just that at its "Wanna Play?" event in Detroit on Saturday, hosted by baseball and softball players from Wayne State University. RBI attendees from local programs were given the opportunity to participate in baseball clinics, along with interacting with Hall of Famer Frank Robinson, MLB executive vice president of baseball development.
The event, partnered by the Boys & Girls Club of America, was held at the Wayne State athletic building hours before Game 3 of the World Series, which has historically been dedicated to youth.
Frank Sanchez, vice president of sports, entertainment and alumni development for the Boys & Girls Club of America, was on hand to discuss the partnership and the event.
"The Boys & Girls Clubs and MLB have been partners for over 16 years," Sanchez said. "It's a great partnership, because we both believe in young people, and we believe in giving them a chance. We try to inspire and help young people to be great all across the country through RBI, 'Wanna Play?' and all of the activities that we do together."
For his part, Robinson was equally emphatic when it came to the importance of the MLB-BGCA relationship.
"It's very, very important to MLB," Robinson said. "The Commissioner [Bud Selig] is very behind it, and he pushes for it. And anything you need in this area to take it where it needs to go, he's willing to do whatever it takes."
"Throughout the year, the Boys & Girls Clubs of America create opportunities for young people, whether it is coming to the World Series like [Boys & Girls Club National Youth of the Year] Trei [Dudley] is doing today," Sanchez explained, "or helping kids be fit -- we have 150 kids out there being active -- or going to the All-Star Game. Major League Baseball is all about giving kids opportunities, and that's what we do together."
"Today, we are here to celebrate the 'Wanna Play?' Program and the fact that together baseball and Major League Baseball set a Guinness world record that over 20,000 young people participated in a fitness program on the same day," Sanchez said, referring to a national game of tag played earlier this year. "And MLB and the Boys & Girls Clubs have done it again and set another record that someone else has to chase now."
Dudley, the BGSA's National Youth of the Year, was quick to point out the impact the organization has had on her life.
"I grew up in a single-parent home, so I had to mature quickly," said Dudley, who is a freshman at the University of Arkansas and hopes to start a nonprofit organization for teens. "In fourth grade, I had to start working around the house, cleaning and cooking dinner and those kinds of things, so I kind of lost my childhood at home. But when I went to the Boys & Girls Club, I could talk to the mentors that were there for me so I could express myself and get some of those feelings out that were so buried. That's how it all started to help me become the person I am today.
"It brought me out of that shell I was hidden under with all of the emotions and all of the things that were going on at home. I found people I could trust and that would listen to me, and helped to shape me into a better person. It helped me to find my core values and what I was about."
Sean Casey, MLB Network studio analyst and member of the 2006 Tigers team that reached the World Series, was back in Detroit for the event, joined by Craig Monroe, also a member of the '06 Tigers, and Barbaro Garbey, who was on the '84 World Series champion Tigers.
"One of the greatest moments I ever had was here," Casey said. "Jim Leyland was one of my idols growing up. Being back in Detroit is great. The fans are seriously some of the best. I love my time in Detroit. I'm rooting for the Tigers -- I still have a lot of good friends there. I'd like nothing more than for [Tigers owner] Mr. [Mike] Ilitch to bring a World Series title to this great city and the fans."
But for Casey, the more important thing was being able to lend a hand.
"I've been involved in these types of programs before with the RBI program and the Boys & Girls Clubs -- I think it is just a great thing that Major League Baseball does," he said. "I'm really trying to get inner city youth to come back to baseball and to play the game. It's such a great sport, it's such a great way to make new friends and to get active. It's just such a great partnership, and every time I have been asked to support it, I always love coming out here.
"Anytime that you can be a part of a team, stay active, make new friends -- that's what sports does -- especially with the great game of baseball."
That's a message Robinson was equally earnest in expressing.
"It gives them an opportunity, No. 1," Robinson said. "And as a youngster, that's all you should want is an opportunity. It gives them a chance to further their education, to further their careers in what they want to go into, whether it is baseball, basketball, football or whatever they want to do. It keeps them busy. It's a vehicle to help them stay off of the streets and something to look forward to each day."
Sanchez summed it up.
"Together, we [at MLB and BGCA] have the same values. When you think about the great things in America today, you think about baseball and you think about the Boys & Girls Club," Sanchez said. "We want to do right for young people, we want them to love the game of baseball, to be educated, to be fit, and to have good character and leadership. You couldn't find a better marriage between two organizations that have the same values and that care about kids and that want all kids to be great."
Megan Zahneis, winner of the 2011 Breaking Barriers essay contest who earned the job of youth correspondent in 2011, is a reporter for MLB.com.