CINCINNATI -- Cool, calm and collected was the feeling in the Chicago dugout as the Junior RBI team prepared to take the field against Detroit on Thursday at the P&G Cincinnati Urban Youth Academy for the first playoff game of the RBI World Series.But don't mistake the lackadaisical demeanor for
CINCINNATI -- Cool, calm and collected was the feeling in the Chicago dugout as the Junior RBI team prepared to take the field against Detroit on Thursday at the P&G Cincinnati Urban Youth Academy for the first playoff game of the RBI World Series.
But don't mistake the lackadaisical demeanor for ego. Despite being the defending Junior RBI champs, coach Marcus Rodgers keeps these boys in check.
"We tell them exactly what games they're going to play, what games they're going to pitch," Rodgers said. "And then from there, whoever is playing the best, those are the guys we are going to run out in the playoffs. We ask guys to play hard all the time, shouldn't be able to tell if you're 0-10 or 10-10."
That hustle was prominent in the White Sox (4-0) mercy-rule 10-2 victory over Detroit PAL (1-3) to advance to Friday's semifinals at the RBI World Series.
"Always stay humble, because at any point in time, anything can happen," said White Sox player Marquis Jackson. "And don't think too highly of yourself, because the game is the game and it's going to do what it wants to do."
• Reviving Baseball in Inner Cities information
The secret sauce may just be the year-round play and the inclusion of familiar names synonymous with youth baseball in Chicago. All players are members of the Chicago White Sox Amateur City Elite (ACE) program, similar to MLB's Reviving Baseball in Inner Cities (RBI), which is designed to support players in Chicago who lack the financial means or family support to otherwise receive quality baseball and life instruction. The team also includes members of the Jackie Robinson West Little League World Series team that made a run in 2014.
Jackson, a member of that Jackie Robinson West team as well as the White Sox ACE & RBI programs, said of his RBI experience, "Way more fans, and it's a little bit more chill because you know, the pressure was on us a lot just coming from a bigger stage on TV, and you get to relax a little and play your game."
The fans, hospitality and, of course, the competition make the RBI World Series the perfect culmination for Chicago's youth baseball players.
"They love it," Rodgers said. "They love playing in the stadiums, they love the first-class treatment so this is every year kids are like, 'Did I make the RBI team?' so it's a huge event, they enjoy it."
But with all the competition around the Chicago area, it's no wonder making the team is no small feat.
"We do a pretty good job of picking the team with guys that work hard, that don't miss practice, have good grades," said Rodgers of the selection process. "We preach grades a ton, a ton; that those that are doing what they're supposed to do in the classroom and this is their reward."
Last year marked the first RBI World Series championship for the city of Chicago after 30 total appearances in the championship tournament, and the players have their sights set on a repeat.
"It would mean a lot, you know, back to back," Jackson said. "I mean, we've got a lot of pressure on us, but I think we can do it."
If they do accomplish their goals at the RBI World Series, rest assured that a celebration will be waiting for them at home.
"It's an awesome opportunity," Rodgers said. "Even last year when we got home, they had a parade for us in front of the stadium, kids were on the news, we got rings for winning, so it's awesome."
Shannon Ford is a reporter for MLB.com. Follow her on Twitter @Shannon__Ford.