Historic Dodgertown, the Vero Beach, Fla., home to baseball’s defending World Series champions until 2008, had not hosted a Dodgers team for quite some time.
That changed Tuesday -- at the site now known as the Jackie Robinson Training Complex.
“This is the best place you can be for the next week,” said David James, MLB’s vice president of baseball and softball development. “All of you, obviously, are baseball fans; you've played for a long period of time. This is your opportunity. Look at this facility. And if you haven't been outside to see the field, make sure you soak it all in. Legends played here.
“For those of you [who] since you were little kids, you ran a scenario through your head about the big hit, the big home run you're going to hit -- this is the week when you can do that.”
The Dodgers’ RBI program is no stranger to the league’s World Series, as Los Angeles-based teams are making their 49th (senior baseball) and 50th (softball) appearances in the tournament.
The senior baseball team (ages 16-18) is returning to RBI World Series play for the first time since 2010, the last year of a long run that saw them reach 17 of 18 tournaments. With the softball team (ages 19 and under) joining them, 2021 marks the first time in a decade that L.A. has two teams competing in the same season.
“What’s up, guys? It’s Will Smith. Just want to say congrats to the Dodgers RBI team for making the RBI World Series. Go out there and have fun, and bring another championship to L.A.,” he said.
Price added: “From one champ to another, you guys got this. Good luck, Dodgers RBI team. Go bring another championship to L.A.”
One of the players who heard the message, Federico Sanchez, is thrilled to spend the week playing at and staying in the same facilities once used by some of the greatest Dodgers of all time.
“They told us before we got here, ‘Jackie Robinson could have been eating here as well.’ Like, different players could have been sleeping here.” Sanchez said. “It’s really crazy being here.”
For Sanchez and his team, the opportunity to represent the Dodgers brand and the city of Los Angeles means everything.
And for the big leaguers themselves to reach out, Jonathan Kazarian -- one of the Dodgers' RBI coaches -- said meant the world to his team.
“I mean, how great is these guys taking their time to talk to these kids? And, you know, some of them didn't even think that they were a blip on the radar,” Kazarian said, “and to know that [the Dodgers are] thinking about us back at home … it's just fantastic.”
Tournament at a glance
The RBI World Series will feature nearly 200 young athletes on teams from 13 cities around the U.S. A total of four RBI programs (Atlanta Braves, Cincinnati Reds, Dodgers and Roberto Clemente) have sent two teams to the tournament, while Indianapolis, Pittsburgh and Seattle are sending teams for the first time in many years. Even a team from Williamsport, Pa., clinched a berth for the first time.
The RBI program, which has served approximately two million players since its inception in 1989, is administered by Major League Baseball and designed to give young people from underserved and diverse communities the opportunity to play baseball and softball, while also encouraging academic achievement and teaching the value of teamwork, among other important life lessons.
The list of RBI alumni who have gone on to play in the Majors is rather impressive, headlined by: Justin Upton, Eloy Jiménez, Nomar Mazara, Anthony Rendon, Josh Harrison, Jackie Bradley Jr., Ramón Laureano, J.P. Crawford and Dominic Smith.
Among the aforementioned, Jiménez (Dominican Republic RBI, 2012), Mazara (Dominican Republic RBI, '11), Crawford (Venice Boys & Girls Club RBI, ‘09) and Smith (Venice Boys & Girls Club RBI, ‘09) have each played in the RBI World Series.
Reactions from the diamond
Williamsport, Pa., is most famous for being the site of the annual Little League World Series. But for the first time this year, its local youth have reached the apex of the RBI program.
“Our guys are excited to be here,” said Williamsport coach Corey Burkholder. “We have a team that can compete on a national level, and that’s what we are trying to do.
“Some of these guys have been in our program since they were 8, 9 years old. We teach our guys to not take one moment, one day, one pitch for granted. The fact that we are here, at this complex -- we are all just relishing in the moment and hope to present well and honor the footsteps that came before us.”
John Boggs, coach of the Indianapolis squad, which is making its first appearance in the tournament since 2007 (the city’s fifth overall), understands and appreciates how the RBI program uplifts kids in a profound way.
“They're making a conscious effort to bring baseball not only to minorities,” he said, “but to others in the communities that are not as well off.”