CINCINNATI -- When the Reds and CEO Bob Castellini set out to construct an Urban Youth Academy in Cincinnati, they envisioned the opportunity to host jewel events for young ballplayers.
That became a reality Wednesday when it was announced the Reds will host the 2016 and '17 RBI World Series tournament.
"This is a proud day here. It is really exciting," Castellini said. "This is a very, very big event. It's a wonderful honor for our Urban Youth Academy to host the 2016 and '17 RBI World Series. It's unbelievable."
The RBI (Reviving Baseball in Inner Cities) program is a Major League Baseball youth initiative designed to give children from underserved urban communities the opportunity to play baseball and softball. At the same time, participants are encouraged to pursue academic success and learn the value of teamwork and other important life lessons.
A news conference to announce the RBI World Series -- an international tournament -- was held at the P&G Cincinnati MLB Urban Youth Academy. Among those in attendance were Castellini, Reds catcher Devin Mesoraco, former All-Star Dave Parker and Tony Reagins, who is MLB's senior vice president for youth programs.
Games for the 2016 RBI World Series will be held Aug. 3-16 on fields around Greater Cincinnati. Great American Ball Park and the Urban Youth Academy will serve as the event's central locations, with the championship games to be played at the Academy.
To qualify for the RBI World Series, RBI leagues from the United States, Canada, the Caribbean and South America will compete in eight RBI regional qualifying tournaments slated to begin in June. There will be 24 teams (16 baseball and eight softball) that ultimately compete in the RBI World Series in three divisions: junior baseball for 13- to 15-year-olds, senior baseball for 16- to 18-year-olds and softball for ages 19 and under.
"There are nearly 230,000 participants in the RBI program and only 360 kids will have an opportunity to play in the tournament," Reagins said. "So it is certainly an honor to play in the RBI World Series."
Current Major League players who were RBI program participants as kids include Michael Bourn of the Braves, Carl Crawford of the Dodgers, Coco Crisp from the A's, the Yankees' CC Sabathia, the Tigers' Justin Upton and the Rays' James Loney. Crawford, Loney, Crisp and current free agent Yovani Gallardo all played in the RBI World Series.
Home to a 33,000-square-foot indoor facility and four pristine outdoor playing fields, the P&G Cincinnati MLB Urban Youth Academy opened in 2014. It has daily and weekend programming that include baseball instruction and clinics along with health and education programs and more.
In 2013, when the Reds were awarded the 2015 All-Star Game, it was also announced that MLB and P&G would provide grants for the construction of the Urban Youth Academy.
"We knew that this complex would have a tremendous impact on youth baseball and the community," Castellini said. "The construction and success of the Urban Youth Academy is one of the true highlights in our decade of ownership of the Cincinnati Reds.
"The youth academy will outlast the All-Star Game by decades. Looking back over our stewardship of the Reds, this will be one of the finest things we have accomplished as a franchise and ownership group. We are truly proud of what's happened here."
This marks the first time the Reds and Cincinnati have hosted the RBI World Series. The club has hosted multiple RBI regional tournaments in past years.
More than 200 RBI alumni have been drafted by MLB clubs, including 55 in the past four MLB Drafts and 80 since 2008. The RBI program, now in its 28th year, has served more than 2 million young people since 1989.
"It's through fun and engaging programs that we look to draw kids and give them the resources to grow and learn within the game," Reagins said.
Besides the RBI World Series, several hundred players will be in the city and get to participate in a community service event for the "Play Ball" initiative, attend a Reds game at Great American Ball Park and take part in the "Breaking Barriers: In Sports, In Life" essay contest administered by Sharon Robinson, MLB's educational programming consultant and daughter of pioneer and Hall of Famer Jackie Robinson.
Castellini considered landing the RBI World Series for the next two years a "feather in the cap" for the franchise.
"This, in many ways, culminates the dream of not only building a facility like this but the community outreach that Mr. Castellini envisioned a decade ago," said Charley Frank, the executive director of the Reds Community Fund.