RBI University: Five athletes return for one final season
In the 2021 Rangers RBI Softball season, five of the best athletes already have one year of collegiate softball under their belts. While a vast majority of the RBI Softball players are still in high school, these girls fall within the qualified age range based on their birthdays.
In the MLB RBI League, qualification to play is based on age, not on the year of high school graduation. If a softball player has not reached her 19th birthday as of Jan. 1, she is qualified to participate in that summer’s RBI League.
College athletes Kylie Cox, Hannah Rodriguez, Melanie Henderson, Gabriela Quintanilla and Erin Ledesma couldn’t pass up one last opportunity to play in a Rangers RBI uniform.
“I've been coming to the Youth Academy for so long, I thought why not enjoy my last year here," said Ledesma, who just concluded her freshman year at Southern University and A&M College. "I wanted to come back to help younger girls and spend time with the Academy community.”
For these five young athletes, returning to the Rangers Youth Academy meant a final opportunity to play with new and old friends alike, soaking up every memory.
“I’m trying not to take it for granted,” said Rodriguez, Texas A&M San Antonio outfielder and third baseman. “I’m focused on living in the moment, realizing this is my last time playing here, with these girls, and in this community.”
“It means a lot to return this summer because I know that this Youth Academy has helped me grow, not just as a player but as a person,” said Henderson. “It's been a very, very great experience, and I'm so glad to be leaving with a bang.”
Before their high school graduations and college signing days, these athletes grew up at the Youth Academy, many of them joining when the Academy first opened its doors at the Mercy Street Sports Complex in West Dallas.
“The best part about playing each year is the different talent that comes through here,” said Cox, Crowley’s Ridge College athlete and winner of the 2019 Academy Youth of the Year award. “There are so many more girls that we didn't always have, you can come back one year, and there's 50 girls instead of 10 girls. It's gotten so big, and it's special to see the different people that come through here building and getting better and better every day.”
These five athletes alone have played at the Youth Academy for a combined 22 years.
“My favorite part about playing for the Texas Rangers Youth Academy is representing it and just being part of it,” said Rodriguez. “As it gets bigger, I can say that my friends and I have grown up here, and we helped start it all.”
Cox, Rodriguez, Henderson, Quintanilla and Ledesma have all left a legacy at the Academy and across the U.S., from the Rangers RBI League to Southwest Regional Tournaments in Austin and New Orleans, the RBI World Series in Florida, the Jennie Finch Classic in Ohio, the MLB World Series in Washington D.C., All-Star weekends in Atlanta and beyond.
“I've had so many opportunities that some people will never be able to have,” said Henderson. “I've gone to most of the camps and travel opportunities that the Youth Academy has provided. I’ve traveled to California, Florida twice, went to Ohio, Washington, Austin, so many places. It's nice to know that your hard work has paid off, and it's benefited me as a person too because I've gained confidence in everything that I do.”
Besides making memories on the softball diamond, these girls have made lifelong friendships and built a bond with their Youth Academy coaches.
“My mentors have definitely been the coaches. The coaches have always been there for me, so it's special to have them watch me grow up and always help me along the way,” said Ledesma as she reflected on her four years at the Youth Academy.
Now that this group of women has graduated to the next level, they have taken on a new role this RBI season beyond just a catcher, pitcher or outfielder, becoming a mentor to their younger teammates.
“Girls look up to us this year because we're older and have more experience. It's a good feeling,” said Quintanilla, East Central University’s starting second baseman.
“This season is fun. It's refreshing to see how much I've learned because I'm playing with kids that are high school freshman, sophomore, juniors, and I used to be in their shoes,” said Cox. “Now, I get to help them as a college athlete, they kind of look up to me.
“The people that graduated with me and came back to play this year, we are one big group of leaders, leading these younger kids as a unit.”
Each of these ladies has earned their place as a mentor at the Rangers Youth Academy, showing the dedication it takes to become college athletes while using softball as a steppingstone in higher education and life, too.
Quintanilla, a nursing major who is fulfilling her dream of playing collegiate softball, said, “College is going well. Playing second base as a freshman was really cool, and I worked hard for that.”
Beyond their work on the field, these girls are making the most of their time in the classroom. Quintanilla is studying nursing, Ledesma— mechanical engineering, Henderson is majoring in kinesiology, Rodriguez in psychology while minoring in criminal justice, and Cox is studying sports management.
These Academy athletes truly have bright futures, and hopefully, we will see them coaching in the Rangers RBI League next.
Father’s Day baseball
In honor of Father’s Day, this Saturday, June 19, the Texas Rangers Youth Academy and its partner, Buckner International, are hosting a Father’s Day baseball game at 4:30 p.m., on Kershaw’s Challenge Field.
Dads and their children will team up to show off their baseball skills in a friendly game against families across the community. Registration is free and Dads will receive a special Father’s Day gift bag at the conclusion of the game.