RBI celebrates 20th anniversary in style
Alumni, honorees on hand for organization's annual Hall of Fame dinner
LOS ANGELES -- Twenty years is a milestone to remember, and Thursday night, Reviving Baseball in Inner Cities (RBI) celebrated its 20th anniversary in fine style at its annual Hall of Fame dinner at the historic Biltmore Hotel in downtown Los Angeles.
Founded by former Major League player and scout John Young in 1989, the organization has grown from the original 12 teams organized in South Central Los Angeles to more than 240 worldwide programs. Young is pleased with the progress his organization made over the past two decades.
"It's seems like just yesterday, we were running around with 11 kids," recalled Young. "I look at how Major League Baseball has helped expand it 240 programs, 250,000 kids, it's just mind boggling."
The program helps keep kids involved in both baseball for boys and softball for girls. The annual RBI World Series every August has been featured as a one-hour special on ESPN for the past two years. RBI alumni Coco Crisp of the Kansas City Royals and Dodgers first baseman James Loney have narrated the two specials.
"Without RBI I wouldn't be in the big leagues," said Crisp, an RBI graduate, who was honored by the organization in 2006. "There are so many other things that people can get into during their free time. I guess I found a lot of other places to play, but RBI helped me on the baseball field and as well in the classroom and I like to give back."
"I think it's great and I think it works both ways," said Loney in describing how he enjoys talking to the current RBI players who visit with him at Dodger Stadium during the season. "I think they can see, 'here's a guy playing in the Major Leagues,' and at that age these kids think anything is possible and you want to provide that example, so they continue to work and have fun."
Loney's teammate, pitcher James McDonald, spent many years in the Los Angeles RBI program. The Southern California native sees his involvement in RBI as a life-changing experience.
"They were here for me at times when I didn't have much. They paid for me so I could play baseball and always made sure I had good grades," said McDonald, recalling his years with the program. "They taught me how to act right, and I truly believe this is one of the best programs in baseball right now.
"I played on three big league fields through RBI before I actually played on a big league team," said McDonald, who made his Major League debut last September. "I played my first game at Dodger Stadium seven years ago through RBI."
RBI also honored former Major League players Roy White, Derrel Thomas, Dock Ellis, who passed away on Dec. 19th and Maury Wills, who was given the organization's Lifetime Achievement Award.
"When you talk about James Loney and Coco Crisp, I've had personal contact with these young men," said Wills, who won the National League MVP in 1962. "If we think about, it without an RBI program, where they can develop their talents as baseball players and make it in life? I shudder to think where they might be. I certainly wouldn't be here accepting an award if we didn't have people during my time like a John Young looking out for my best interest."
"It was John's vision twenty years ago that made all of this a reality," said Dodgers chairman Frank McCourt, who was given a full-page acknowledgment in the event's publication for the support the Dodgers organization has given RBI over the past 20 years. "Just look at what some of the graduates of the program have done -- both men and women. The program not only has been there to teach them baseball, but the importance of an education and the importance of giving back as well."
Ben Platt is a national correspondent for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.