VERO BEACH, Fla. -- Arizona RBI Junior Division coach Glenn Coleman, the founder of Arizona RBI baseball, is in his 12th year and has helped guide the program to the powerhouse it is today.
Not only did the Arizona RBI Junior and Senior Division teams earn their way to the RBI World Series at Jackie Robinson Training Complex, both have now advanced as undefeated No. 1 seeds to Friday’s World Series Championship Games.
Coleman’s Junior Division group is making its the fifth trip to the World Series and first to the championship game. They will take on the Chicago White Sox RBI team at 8 a.m. ET Friday for the title while the Arizona RBI Senior Division team faces the Miami Marlins RBI team at 11:30 a.m. That game will stream live on MLB.com.
The past two years have ended in frustration for the Arizona RBI Junior Division team, which lost in walk-off fashion in the World Series.
“It’s surreal,” Coleman said, of finally advancing to the big game after a 9-8 win over a scrappy Miami Marlins RBI team on Thursday. “This year we got over the hump, but it takes a whole team effort to get here. I’m overjoyed with it. It’s a credit to the kids. They worked hard to get here.”
And every year, Coleman works hard to put them in position to get there.
“Every year, we look for a quality kid that can not only play baseball but understand what’s expected of them,” Coleman said. “We don’t necessarily look for the best player, but we look for the best quality player that can play the game but also adhere to the expectations.”
Jose Romero is one of those young players. In his second year with the program, Romero said he is thankful for the opportunity.
“It’s been a great journey,” Romero said. “I’ve been blessed to be able to be on this team twice and come to the World Series twice. Last year was a heartbreaker. Now we’re back and striving to win this, and come back to Arizona as champions this year.”
Arizona RBI Senior Division coach Danny Rodriguez, who is in his sixth year with the program, is also a high school baseball coach in Arizona. His team lost to Chicago in last year’s RBI World Series Championship Game but is back with a vengeance looking for a second RBI World Series title in four years. This season marks its fourth RBI World Series appearance in the past five years.
“This experience coming back is big,” Rodriguez said. “It’s a big deal for these guys. The kids have had a great time. The humidity is getting to us. But the kids love it. It’s a nice atmosphere out here. This complex is beautiful.”
The Arizona RBI Senior Division team last won the RBI World Series in 2016 at Cincinnati and has been highly competitive for quite some time.
“We just got inner-city kids around the valley there, and they’re very good athletes,” Rodriguez explained. “They want to play, and it doesn’t cost them a whole lot to play for us. So we just took advantage of that, and the kids have a goal to come here.”
Nathan Rohlicek wasn’t with the team last year, but he's definitely glad he decided to give it a try this summer.
“I watched the game last year on MLB Network thinking, ‘Wow, I’d love to be a part of that,’" said Rohlicek, who joined the team to stay active over the summer. "So actually being a part of it, I’m pumped. I know everyone that’s returning from last year has unfinished business, and I’m glad to be a part of it.”
The prospect of winning regionals in California and advancing to play in Florida sealed the deal for Rohlicek, who made his first trip to the Sunshine State. “I said, 'Hey, nothing wrong with that.’”
Both Arizona RBI teams will have their hands full with two teams looking to pull an upset and take home the trophy.
Chicago White Sox RBI Junior Division team coach Marcus Rodgers, whose team upset previously unbeaten Puerto Rico RBI Carolina in a 4-3 nail-biter, said he is happy for his team to have this opportunity once again. This marks the fifth World Series for Rodgers’ coaching staff. Last year, he took the Senior Division team to the RBI World Series title in Minnesota.
It’s the fourth RBI World Series trip in five years for the Junior Division squad, which last won it in 2016.
“It’s awesome,” Rodgers said. “It’s an awesome opportunity for our guys to come and display all the hard work that they put in all year round to be in a position to compete for the World Series [title]."
But not before 16-year-old pitcher Sean Moore put out the fire during Puerto Rico RBI Carolina’s seventh-inning rally.
“He’s been our leader the entire way,” Rodgers said.
Moore worked the final three innings on Thursday, recording the final out with the potential tying and winning runs on base. It was a gutsy performance in relief of starter Colin Alexander, who earned the win with four solid innings during which he allowed just one unearned run and three hits while striking out three.
“When it got crazy in the last inning, my thing was to stay mentally focused like the coaches teach me,” Moore said.
The Miami Marlins RBI Senior Division will also be a tough team for Arizona to tangle with in the championship game.
“A lot of these kids are very good high school players, and they’re all accomplished,” Miami Marlins RBI coach Andre Payne said. “The biggest thing that we’ve done in the last month is get them to come together and be a team. When you see guys that are used to being a 3 or 4 hitter and they’re hitting eighth or ninth and they’re not complaining, they’ve bought in. So that was our job, the toughest job we had as a coaching staff, to get them to buy in."
This marks Payne's third World Series. His first was in 2014, and the team didn’t do as well as he’d hoped.
“I learned a lot as a coach, and I left [that World Series] really empty,” said Payne, who guided the Miami Marlins RBI team to the World Series championship the following year. “I had a euphoric feeling [the second time around], so I want my guys to experience that. Hopefully [Friday] we can dog pile, celebrate and go back to Miami with a victory.”
That’s what 18-year-old Michael Uz, in his first and final season with the RBI program, would like to see happen for his boisterous team.
“We are loud. We are competitive. We do not stop. From beginning to end, it’s full-on energy,” he said.