RBI WS: 'Everybody feels like a big leaguer'

August 5th, 2021

When Randall Ford says he has baseball in his blood, he means it.

A member of the Pittsburgh RBI team, Ford has exuded confidence during his time at the RBI World Series in Vero Beach, Fla.

A great grandson of Cumberland Posey -- the legendary owner of the Homestead Grays, a Negro League powerhouse -- Ford has embraced his time at the tournament.

“It's great. It's amazing,” Ford said. “This experience being in Florida -- I come from Pittsburgh, so the scenery is just very nice, to get to play against good competition.”

A vital piece on a Pittsburgh RBI team playing in its first RBI World Series since 2008, Ford has relished playing at the famous Jackie Robinson Training Complex, formerly the Los Angeles Dodgers’ Spring Training home.

“Everybody feels like a big leaguer around here,” Ford said.

Ford’s coach, Nelson Cooper, has seen the benefits of the RBI program.

This year’s tournament holds special meaning for Cooper, who was able to skipper in the dugout on Tuesday opposite Seattle’s Baseball Beyond Borders club.

Cooper grew up playing for the aforementioned program and cherished the chance to show some of his old coaches that he learned a thing or two under their tutelage.

“So I actually grew up playing in the Baseball Beyond Borders program and was one of the first kids to graduate from college through that program,” Cooper said. “And now I'm able to coach the Pirates RBI program and another program in Pittsburgh called Pittsburgh Hardball Academy, able to give back to kids just the same way that Baseball Beyond Borders gave back to me.”

One of the current Seattle players, Adrian Shields, realizes the unique opportunity the RBI program affords kids around the country.

“I know so many kids who, even like myself, wouldn't be able to have these opportunities without a program like RBI,” Shields said. “It's just amazing how these kids get opportunities to perform on such a big stage like this one.”

That stage, of course, is the aforementioned Jackie Robinson Training Complex.

Shields’ coach, EC Parker, shares his player’s sentiment on participating in the RBI World Series. The real victories, Parker said, come in off-the-field lessons.

“Obviously, these kids have dreams to play professionally and things of that nature, but the reality is, the majority of them won't,” Parker said.

“If all we do is teach them how to be better baseball players, then we’ve failed them. At the end of the day, we want them to be better human beings, better participants in society.”

The fruits of that labor, Parker said, can be seen in Cooper, Pittsburgh’s coach.

“Cooper threw out the first pitch in our program’s history,” Parker said. “So for him to have his team from Pittsburgh here, it shows the fruits of our labor. To see him giving back shows that the things we are doing are the right things, and paying rewards.”

RBI World Series veterans
The Austin, Texas, team is back for a second straight RBI World Series, and the club’s third overall. Its coach, Eric Vandament, has the rare perspective of having played and managed at the RBI program’s most prestigious event.

“I'm still so close with all those guys that I went to the RBI World Series with [as a player],” Vandament said. “I just hope that I can give the same experience to [my players].”

One of Vandament’s players, Josh Cardnas, also carries RBI World Series experience into this year’s tournament. A member of Austin’s RBI World Series team from 2019, Cardenas returns with a greater perspective.

“I have more experience. I feel like I'm a better teammate than I was before,” Cardenas said. “I feel like a better player, and feel I contribute more.”

That experience, it seems, has led to increased confidence.

“We are planning to win it all,” Cardenas proclaimed.

Tournament at a glance
• The RBI World Series features 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. A team from Williamsport, Pa., clinched a berth for the first time. 

• The RBI program, which has served approximately 2 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 played in the RBI World Series.