Major League Baseball has awarded college scholarships, each valued at $5,000 per year, to 12 incoming college freshmen who were participants of the Reviving Baseball in Inner Cities (RBI) program, the Major League Baseball youth baseball and softball initiative for young people from underserved communities.
The recipients are receiving the grants through the "RBI for RBI" Scholarship Fund, which was created in 2008 to provide financial support for college-bound student-athletes based on academic record, demonstrated leadership, participation in school and community activities, and financial need. Since its inception, the "RBI for RBI" Scholarship Fund has awarded more than 120 college scholarships to RBI participants from 37 programs.
"Our desire to encourage and reward academic success through our 'RBI for RBI' Scholarship Fund is equally as important as our efforts on the field," said Tony Reagins, Senior Vice President of Youth Programs, Major League Baseball. "We at Major League Baseball are proud to support participants of RBI programs who have demonstrated a desire to continue their academic journey."
The RBI for RBI scholarships provide each recipient the opportunity to pursue any field of study at a two-year college, four-year college, university or vocational school in the United States or Puerto Rico. The need-based payments of up to $5,000 per year may be renewed for up to three years or until the award recipient has earned his or her training certificate, associate degree or bachelor's degree.
The 2017 RBI for RBI Scholarship recipients are listed below along with background information on each student-athlete and the program's history in the RBI for RBI Scholarship program:
- Mergim Ahmetaj (DREAM RBI, East Harlem, N.Y.): Mergim is studying Engineering at SUNY Binghamton in Binghamton, N.Y. In high school, he served as Vice President of the finance club and was a High Honor Roll student through his school's College Access Program. Mergim received mastery in French on the Department of Education's NYC Language Other Than English (LOTE) exam. Mergim is one of three 2017 RBI for RBI recipients from the DREAM RBI program, and the twelfth overall member to receive an "RBI for RBI" scholarship - the most of any RBI program.
- Tiarra Basnight-Banks (Baltimore Orioles RBI, Baltimore, Md.): Tiarra, who carried a 4.3-weighted GPA in high school, is pursuing her dream of becoming a kinesiotherapist at Norfolk State University in Norfolk, Va. During her time in high school, Tiarra served on the board of her school's Student Government Association and was a loyal volunteer with the American Cancer Society. Baltimore has had three "RBI for RBI" scholarship recipients since 2016.
- RJ Barnes (Cincinnati Reds RBI, Cincinnati, Ohio): In June, the Cincinnati Reds selected RJ IN THE 34th round of the 2017 MLB Amateur Draft. Dedicated to his education, RJ decided to pursue a degree in Business at Morehouse College in Atlanta, Ga., instead. In high school, he served as President of his school's Black Student Union and was awarded the 2015 Dan Henke Junior Award for his impressive leadership skills. RJ finished high school with a 3.2-weighted GPA. He is one of two 2017 RBI for RBI Scholarship recipients from the Cincinnati Reds RBI program, which has had an "RBI for RBI" recipient for five consecutive years and the most recipients since 2010 (nine).
- Abigail Castillo (DREAM RBI, Harlem, N.Y.): Abigail is currently studying Psychology at the University of Southern California. She was a member of the YES-NYC Scholar program during her time in high school, and was also captain of both her softball and dance teams. While in college, she plans to study abroad in Rome.
- Rachel Crawford (Cincinnati Reds RBI, Cincinnati, Ohio): Rachel is currently a freshman studying Marine Sciences at Coastal Carolina University in Conway, S.C. She graduated as President of her school's National Honor Society, finishing with a 4.3-weighted GPA. Rachel was co-captain of her volleyball team, where she also earned MVP honors. She was recognized by the NFCA as an All-America Scholar Athlete and a KHSAA First Team Academic All-State.
- Dakota Limon (RBI Austin, Austin, Texas): Dakota is currently a freshman at Temple College majoring in Business, where he is a member of the NJCAA Baseball team. Dakota was a dedicated member of his high school's Multicultural Heritage Club and was the leader of Fellow Christian Athletes during all four years of high school. Dakota is the first "RBI for RBI" recipient out of RBI Austin since 2014, and the third one overall.
- Justin Pujols (Miami Marlins RBI, Miami, Fla.): Justin finished high school with a 3.85-weighted GPA and is currently attending Florida Atlantic University in Boca Raton, Fla., to study Environmental Engineering. Justin dedicated over four years of service to Church-based community service initiatives. He also served as a teacher's assistant for his Law and Economics class. Justin is the first recipient out of the Miami Marlins RBI program since 2015.
- Steven Martinez (DREAM RBI, Harlem, N.Y.): Steven Martinez is currently a freshman studying Engineering at SUNY Binghamton in Binghamton, N.Y. In high school, he served as the Co-Captain of his high school's Varsity Baseball team and Vice President of the finance club. Steven was also a high school mentor for rising ninth graders.
- William Powell (Boys & Girls Club of Greater Kansas City RBI, Kansas City, Mo.): William wrapped up his high school career with a 3.82-weighted GPA. He is now a college freshman at Jackson State University in Jackson, Miss., where he is studying Civil Engineering. At Jackson State, the college freshman is a member of the Division I Baseball program. William, who is the second Kansas City RBI scholarship recipient since 2011, spent a week shadowing the Kansas City Royals during Spring Training
- Caitelyn Sanchez (Houston Astros RBI, Houston, Texas): Caitlyn recently began at the University of Texas at San Antonio as a freshman. She was an active member of the Houston Astros RBI program for three years, and managed to exceed expectations both on and off the field. She excelled in her school's rigorous International Baccalaureate College prep-program and was awarded First Team Academic All-State and Second Team All-District during her senior season on the softball team. This is the fourth consecutive year a participant in Houston Astros RBI has received the "RBI for RBI" scholarship and ninth overall.
- Elise Santiago (Red Sox Foundation RBI, Boston, Mass.): Elise was a coach and mentor for young participants of the Red Sox Foundation RBI program, and is now studying Criminal Justice at Salem State University in Salem, Mass. During high school, Elise was an Honor Roll student and volunteered for her school's Site Council. Elise, one of two 2017 "RBI for RBI" winners, is the third overall recipient out of the Red Sox Foundation RBI program
- Lane Ward (Red Sox Foundation RBI, Boston, Mass.): Lane was a dedicated member of the Red Sox Foundation RBI program for seven years, before departing to American International College in Springfield, Mass., to study Physical Therapy. Lane finished high school with a 3.64-weighted GPA and was selected as a member of the Legacy Scholars Advisory Council, an elite group of African American and Latino students at her high school.