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ROIT -- As Frank Robinson looked out into a sea of orange-clad children from under-served communities in the rebuilding city of Detroit, he thought back to his own boyhood in Oakland, Calif. His words could have been for any age of listener.
"This is something that is not a given, this is something that you earn, and you should appreciate it," the Hall of Famer told the suddenly silent and impressionable boys and girls in a gym at Wayne State University. "Never take anything for granted.
"I had an opportunity in Oakland to go one way or the other, and I chose baseball and sports, instead of going to the other side of the street and getting involved in gangs. Baseball has been my life. I've been in baseball over 60 years. Through hard work and dedication and thinking about a team, you can do anything.
"Don't let anybody ever tell you, 'You can't.' You can, if you're willing to work hard."
Robinson, 77, Major League Baseball's executive vice president of baseball development and two-league MVP, was among a large group of dignitaries on hand for a "Wanna Play?" youth clinic as part of MLB's overall Game 3 kids initiative throughout Saturday. This theme is highlighting MLB's partnership with Boys & Girls Clubs of America and the Reviving Baseball in Inner Cities (RBI) and Breaking Barriers MLB programs.
More than 400 young baseball and softball players from Think Detroit Pal RBI, Orchard Children's Services RBI and Detroit-area Boys & Girls Clubs, along with players from the three 2012 RBI World Series championship teams (Baseball Junior, Senior and Softball divisions) participated.
In San Francisco, MLB dedicated Game 1 to the fight against cancer and Game 2 to Welcome Back Veterans, again using its greatest stage to activate citizens in hopes of making a difference together. Game 4 will celebrate community service with a focus on Habitat for Humanity.
Robinson said it was "different people at different times" who helped him as a boy. They referred to "playground directors" back then, and he remembers Mary Lou Russo as one of them who focused him on the right path. He remembers George Powles, his coach in sandlot ball and in high school, guiding him into sports.
"Sports at that time just consumed me," Robinson said. "I always knew I wanted to be a ballplayer.
"I don't think [these children] understand it fully right now, but hopefully they will keep that, and they'll hear it and they'll understand when they're a little older what it really means. And what it really means is, be willing to work for what you want, and don't look for someone or expect someone to give you something. You won't appreciate it as much, when you do achieve a goal, if you don't really work for it."
Also participating were Barbaro Garbey, a member of the Tigers' last world championship club in 1984, Craig Monroe, a member of the Tigers' 2006 World Series team, MLB Network analyst and Tigers '06 alum Sean Casey, event clinicians from the Cal Ripken Sr. Foundation and members of the Wayne State baseball and softball teams.
"It's cool for me to hang out with Frank Robinson," Casey said. "I was telling these kids, this guy is one of the greatest players to ever play the game, and he comes out and takes his time to talk to these kids.
"I think it's great for these kids, and great for Major League Baseball that they do what they do with the RBI program and Boys & Girls Clubs. It's a win-win for everybody. Kids understand that it's a great game, it's a chance for them to make relationships, make friendships, be part of a team, stay active."
Garbey said he has remained in coaching since retiring as a player, and he told the assembled kids that they should take advantage of a program like "Wanna Play?" -- the kind of resource he never had as a boy in Santiago, Cuba.
"For me, it is an honor every time I can give advice to a kid, to get better in baseball," he said. "That is the most important thing I can do."
At different checkpoints in the gym, groups of kids participated in skills lessons. For example, large yellow balls were set up on tees, and from about 25 away, the kids each took turns throwing a baseball to try to knock them off. For many of them, it was just the mere act of learning to throw off the correct foot, of trying to accomplish something ... and of screams in delight when someone succeeded.
They will have something to take home, new interests, lessons, hope. This is done across the country routinely by MLB, teaching a new generation, from all walks of life.
MLB currently operates Urban Youth Academies in Compton, Calif., Houston, and Gurabo, Puerto Rico, and two other Academies have been announced for Philadelphia and Hialeah, Fla. "Wanna Play?" is a multi-faceted initiative dedicated to youth fitness, encouraging boys and girls, ages 6 to 12, to increase their overall fitness and nutrition education through physical activity, while learning fundamental skills of baseball and softball through fun and engaging activities.
"They want to give you a vehicle to get you off of the streets and get you something to do, and also start you on the track to where if you want to play sports, play," Robinson told them. "They want to give you an active mind, give you something to do, give you some place to go.
"The Boys & Girls Club is a tremendous way to be off the streets. Today, take advantage of it, always be willing to work and listen to your coaches and your parents, and understand that you earn what you get in life, it's not a given. Don't look at a setback as a disappointment, look at it as a positive and learn from it and live from it.
"Whatever you want to do in life, you can do if you work hard."