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Growth of game on display at RBI Institute

New international, girls teams highlight overall program expansion
@alysonfooter
March 23, 2019

One of Major League Baseball's goals in its efforts to grow the sport and generate interest in young people worldwide is to bring the game to kids, even in cities that are far from where the big league teams play. Youth baseball is thriving everywhere, a direct result of MLB

One of Major League Baseball's goals in its efforts to grow the sport and generate interest in young people worldwide is to bring the game to kids, even in cities that are far from where the big league teams play.

Youth baseball is thriving everywhere, a direct result of MLB and its partners dedicating time and resources to reaching young people everywhere, regardless of location, demographics or socioeconomic circumstances that may play a part in how much access young people have to the game.

The most recent RBI Institute, held in Birmingham, Ala., further cemented the reality that youth baseball is reaching unprecedented heights with each passing year. The three-day event, designed to bring leaders and interested parties together to discuss best practices pertaining to the Reviving Baseball in Inner Cities (RBI) program, drew representatives from 24 of the 30 Major League teams involved in their local youth academies and RBI programs, in addition to the Boys & Girls Clubs of America, several cities' parks and recreation departments and scores of independent RBI leagues not affiliated with Major League teams.

The long-standing RBI program is focused on bringing baseball to underserved youth in cities. The program has grown significantly through the years and serves hundreds of thousands of kids annually.

In turn, the seminars at the RBI Institute were packed.

"Everyone was so excited to get going and start discussing what they need to do in their communities," said David James, MLB’s vice president of baseball & softball development. "One of the things we really pushed was the community aspect. Everybody has to chip in -- make sure you're volunteering to coach, and if you do, here's all of the things you need to do to make sure you have the right type of coach, and that you've done everything you need to do, so when you sign up, they're going to accept you in the league."

The RBI program's massive international expansion was also on full display at the RBI Institute. Representatives from Egypt, Wales and Nicaragua attended the event, as well as leaders from areas where MLB already has a footprint, such as the Dominican Republic and Canada.

The regions all had one thing in common: They're areas where MLB is focused on increasing access for young people to play baseball and softball.

"Commissioner [Rob Manfred] talks about taking the game to places we don't play every day," James said. "RBI is another programming piece that can provide the game specifically to kids on a regular basis."

The growth is evident in rural areas in the south, too, in states like North Carolina, South Carolina, Mississippi and Alabama.

"When it's not a large metropolitan area, do they have access to the game?" James said. "Do they have access to fields? Do they have access to equipment and uniforms in order for the kids to be able to play? That's where we're starting to see a lot of our growth in the rural south and other rural areas of the country where kids aren't getting access."

There is also a high level of representation from the New York and New Jersey metro area, home to more than a dozen RBI leagues, and the programming has extended to girls' leagues as well, with the San Francisco Bay Sox jumping on board as the first girls baseball league to join RBI.

"There are overall efforts here to make sure girls want to play baseball and have the opportunity to do so," James said. "As a result of some of that work, we became aware of the Bay Sox program. They're underserved in terms of access to play the games and finding other leagues to play with. So it's great to have them with us."

All 30 Major League clubs support the RBI program, and 25 directly operate clubs on a daily basis. The high number of clubs that attended the RBI Institute is further proof that dedication to youth programming is of league-wide interest and a big reason why the initiative has made so many inroads since its inception three decades ago.

"The discussions were about growing and providing more resources in attracting more kids," James said. "We're very excited about the continued support, and I would even call out the growth of commitment from all of the clubs, to make sure more kids have an opportunity to play the game."

Alyson Footer is a national correspondent for MLB.com. Follow her on Twitter @alysonfooter.