Event at 'Field of Dreams' celebrates group's union with Royal Foundation
NEW YORK -- Prince Harry seemed reluctant to show off his hitting form as he explored a Harlem baseball facility on Tuesday, and he even asked the Yankees' Mark Teixeira to demonstrate a right-handed swing to him in the batting cage area.
It may be that Teixeira is a terrific coach, but more likely, the prince's skills translated just fine to the baseball diamond. Prince Harry connected on all three of his swings in the batter's box at Harlem RBI's "Field of Dreams," including a drive that pelted the left-field fence.
"I just said, 'Keep your eye on the ball,'" Teixeira said. "He knew what he was doing. He played some cricket growing up, and he has seen American baseball. He's a natural."
Prince Harry's week-long United States tour brought him to the corner of 101st Street and 1st Avenue on Tuesday afternoon, as Harlem RBI hosted a ceremony to celebrate its new partnership with The Royal Foundation of the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge.
The prince took part in baseball drills with members of Harlem RBI's youth program, including going over fielding fundamentals and hitting off a tee before his three cuts off Teixeira, who lobbed batting-practice pitches from the mound.
"He was unbelievable with the kids," Teixeira said. "You can tell he's very passionate about coaching and helping out kids, especially in inner cities. As he noticed, there's not a lot of ballparks in New York City. To be able to have these park spaces for kids to play is so important."
The 1 1/2-hour visit to East Harlem was part of a busy day for Prince Harry that also included a morning trip to the Jersey Shore and a double-decker bus ride on the streets of Manhattan with British Prime Minister David Cameron.
Prince Harry smiled often with the Harlem RBI children and even asked if there were any Mets fans on the diamond. The prince threw out the ceremonial first pitch for a June 2010 game at Citi Field, though Teixeira joked that he'd now swayed Prince Harry's allegiances to the Yankees.
Jolita Brettler, a fourth grader from East Harlem who attends Harlem RBI's DREAM Charter School, said that she was impressed by both the prince's easy manner and his level of comfort with playing baseball.
"He said it was definitely his first time," said Brettler, 9. "He's a prince. Who would think that a prince is going to play baseball? Princes are usually in a castle or doing something important. Who would have time to play baseball? I think he was really happy when he hit two balls into the outfield."
The ballfield that Prince Harry and Teixeira explored is a crown jewel of Harlem RBI's program, having been transformed in 1991 from an abandoned, garbage-strewn lot into a beautiful natural-grass diamond.
The Royal Foundation has agreed to support Harlem RBI with Project Coach, a venture that aims to enhance the quality of the program's coaching and training while also increasing the number of participants. Harlem RBI will expand its program to the South Bronx this summer and is hiring 30 college-aged coaches.
"I think it's impressive," Teixeira said. "When you have someone as influential as the Royal Foundation kind of bless Harlem RBI and say, 'We believe in what you're doing,' it really just shows that all the hard work is paying off."
Teixeira takes his position as a board member of Harlem RBI seriously and is an influential voice in the organization's decision-making process. The group's success extends to the classroom: Since 2005, 97 percent of Harlem RBI seniors have graduated high school and 94 percent of seniors have been accepted into college.
As he padded through the outfield grass of the "Field of Dreams" on Tuesday, Teixeira expressed satisfaction with how far Harlem RBI has been able to come and -- with support of partners like Prince Harry and The Royal Foundation -- what the future can hold.
"I'm just very proud to be part of an amazing organization," Teixeira said. "This has been in the works for a while. I've gotten to do a lot of really neat things. I've been blessed to play baseball for a long time. But meeting Prince Harry is going to be near the top of the list."