For the first time since the Reds Community Fund began operating the Reds RBI program in 2007, there will be two teams representing Cincinnati at the RBI World Series.
The senior baseball and softball teams advanced after winning their East Regional tournaments in Indianapolis earlier in July. The RBI boys' team punched its ticket with a 7-5 win over Detroit, and the softball squad claimed its third consecutive regional crown by going undefeated, capped by a 9-4 victory over St. Louis.
“This is a very special time for RBI in Cincinnati,” Reds RBI baseball coach Roosevelt Barnes said. “We've never had both softball and baseball win regionals in the same year. It shows how the [P&G MLB Cincinnati Reds Youth Academy] has helped to develop talent in the area. The interest in the RBI program has grown exponentially in this market since opening the facility in 2014. It is a venue for all levels of baseball and softball from beginners to high-level, elite play.”
During the regular season, the baseball team hung its hat on pitching and defense. Reds RBI starting pitchers posted a 1.76 ERA over 40 games in 2021. The pitching was stellar all year, but Barnes also credits the defense for some of that success. If Reds RBI is to bring home the trophy, he knows these are areas in which his team will need to continue excelling. But he also recognizes the camaraderie among this group has made a huge difference in getting to this point.
“This team has been playing well together,” Barnes said. “They seem to have a bond both on and off the field. They have been there for each other all summer. I believe closeness and defensive play will give us the edge.”
No matter what happens at the World Series, which will be held in Vero Beach, Fla., Barnes is proud of his team and will always have the memory of watching his guys celebrate after making the final out in regionals. His players were devastated about not having a tournament last year and talked all winter long about wanting to win regionals in their final year with the program to put a stamp on their RBI careers.
They also had a sentimental motivation, as the RBI program lost one of its beloved coaches in January, Bob Johnson. The team played with heavy hearts all season and “Coach Bob” was top of mind following the regional win. The team held up a banner to honor Johnson as they celebrated.
“Coach Johnson was very committed to the RBI program,” Barnes said. “He helped get many of our regionals teams ready to compete before his passing. The kids wanted to win as a way to honor him and his dedication to the program. Bob was a big part of our baseball family. His service and wisdom are greatly missed. He will forever be in our hearts.”
Johnson would be proud of the young men for what they achieved, and he would be equally proud of the young women from the RBI softball team. While they are no strangers to winning regional championships, the thrill of reaching the World Series never gets old. But coach Steve Burger sees a difference in this year’s team that hopes to bring home its first World Series title.
“The confidence this team has in each other and their drive to succeed is different than previous years,” he said. “We just need to play solid defense and not try to do what can’t be done. We just have to play smart.”
The softball team was dominant on its path to the World Series, finishing 5-0 in regionals. The Reds had a .409 team batting average, with Ella Hull leading the way at a .600 clip. And with opponents hitting just .277 against them, the girls' well-rounded resume bodes well for their chances at winning it all.
“We have a young energetic team that believes in each other,” coach Pat Spurlock said. “Our offense has been fun to watch with its combination of small ball and just hitting the ball well. We are aggressive on the bases, with good team speed. And our pitchers are all different, so we give a lot of different looks to other teams. Our defense is solid, too.”
What the RBI baseball and softball teams have achieved to his point hasn’t gone unnoticed at Great American Ball Park. As the two teams geared up for the big tournament, Reds first baseman Joey Votto stopped by the Reds Youth Academy during practice to work with and support both teams as they prepared for their trip to Florida.
The boys start their pursuit of a World Series title at the Jackie Robinson Training Complex on Monday, and the softball championships begin Thursday. Come mid-August, Reds RBI could boast two World Series champions. But even if the teams fall short of capturing the ultimate prize, the program has much to be proud of.
“It is awesome knowing Cincinnati will be well represented by some amazing kids,” Burger said.