MINNEAPOLIS -- For the third year in a row, the Twin Cities will welcome nearly 300 youth baseball and softball players from the United States, Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands when the Reviving Baseball in Inner Cities (RBI) World Series comes back to Minnesota.
The RBI World Series, an international baseball and softball tournament, is the capstone event of the RBI program's season. The program is a Major League Baseball initiative that strives to give young people from underserved and diverse areas the chance to play baseball and softball while also encouraging academics, community service and the value of teamwork.
Play starts Monday, when the junior boys (ages 13-15) and the senior boys (ages 16-18) take the fields at Neiman Sports Complex, Parade Stadium and Red Haddox Field in Minneapolis, as well as Concordia University and Toni Stone Field in St. Paul. Both divisions will play their championship games on Thursday at Target Field.
"It all goes back to the theme of creating Major League citizens," RBI program director David James said. "They'll be competitive on the field, but there's a lot of things we do off the field to make sure that they keep everything in perspective."
While this marks the third consecutive year the Twins have partnered with the program to serve as host, it also marks the 21st year of the event, and the highest level of participation it has seen to date.
"The participation numbers in regards to the number of leagues and teams that have entered our tournament is at an all-time high this year," James said. "And that number keeps increasing. More leagues, more teams want to enter into this competitive portion of RBI with a chance to advance to the World Series."
New participation is already evidenced by two tournament newcomers, as New Orleans and Jackson, Miss., are making their first appearances in the World Series. New York is also returning to the tournament for the first time since 1997.
James noted it is encouraging to see new teams enter the tournament and to see programs have success -- especially from new regions where participation is growing.
The softball tournament will follow, as play opens on Aug. 10 at Neiman Sports Complex and Dunning Softball Fields in St. Paul. The championship game will be played at the University of Minnesota softball field, Jane Sage Cowles Stadium, on Aug. 14.
Both the senior baseball championship game and the softball championship game will be aired on MLB Network.
In addition to playing games, all participants will take part in a community service project and catch a screening of "42." They will also have daily roundtable discussions to learn about different aspects of the game, with the chance to meet former All-Stars Gary Sheffield, Charles Johnson and Twins legend Tony Oliva.
As this is the third year the tournament will take place in the Twin Cities, it also marks the third year the Twins have played a major role in supporting the program. Kevin Smith, the Twins' executive director of public affairs and executive director of the Twins Community Fund, noted just how special it is for the club to be a part of the event for yet another year.
"It's a great partnership, and it's an honor for us to host a Major League Baseball World Event," Smith said. "That's really what it is. Say what you will about the game of baseball and the salaries and the players and everything, but when it comes down to seeing the looks on kids faces who come here to play this game -- who have never been on an airplane much less out of their little town -- who come to the Twin Cities and play on these beautiful youth fields and play on Target Field, it's really fulfilling to see the looks and the smiles. Really, what it does, it changes peoples lives, and that's the cool part."
Kelly Erickson is an associate reporter for MLB.com.