MINNEAPOLIS -- There was a lot of energy in the Metropolitan Club at Target Field on Tuesday as the Reviving Baseball in Inner Cities kicked off its 19th World Series with the softball opening banquet.
After dinner and speeches by several speakers, the members of the eight softball teams in the 2011 RBI World Series were given about 15 minutes to chat and mingle with everyone else in attendance. During that time, many teams showed off the various cheers and chants in their repertoire.
"They're ready to play tomorrow," RBI program director David James said with a laugh.
The RBI World Series will feature eight teams in each of three divisions -- senior boys (16- to 18-year-olds), junior boys (13-15) and girls softball (19 and under) -- in round-robin tournaments that will determine three champions.
Play in the softball division opens on Wednesday and goes through the weekend, with the championship game being held on Sunday at the University of Minnesota. The boys will play Aug. 10-14, and their championship games will be played at Target Field.
As part of the tournament, teams will take part in opening and closing banquets featuring special guest speakers, workouts attended to by scouts and, of course, competition from some of the best ballplayers around.
James was the first to address the young women, and he also introduced all the teams. The teams vying for the World Series softball title this year come from Harrisburg, Pa., Atlanta, Hoboken, N.J., Cleveland, Santo Domingo, D.R., Houston, St. Louis and the defending champions from Los Angeles.
The key to the program, James said, is the young softball and baseball players themselves.
"We have a lot of great stories to tell about the impact that the program has on them," James said. "It's a game. Softball, baseball -- they want to win, but they're looking for things that will help them get to the next stage in their life."
Not only are the members of the program an important component of the success of RBI, they're also one of the biggest reasons why everyone running the program is involved.
"This program is the jewel of Major League Baseball," said Jacqueline Parkes, chief marketing officer for MLB. "It's an incredible program because it really helps kids on and off the field. Kids learn a lot more about life than they do about the games of baseball and softball, but through baseball and softball they learn about dedication and teamwork. And the passion they have for the game inspires them to go further in their own personal lives."
Parkes, who called the opening banquet "by far the nicest" the program has had, shared stories from RBI alumni with the members of the eight teams and their coaches.
The stories she shared were inspirational success stories from former players who talked with her about the opportunities RBI provided for them and what they learned through the program about teamwork, dedication and passion.
"At the core, sport is a very powerful instrument in shaping and transcending communities," Parkes said. "Sport is just a very powerful vehicle that motivates people to come together and to do things they didn't think they could do."
Parkes spoke very highly of the Twins' hospitality in hosting the event through the first day, while noting that for many of the RBI participants, the World Series may be their first time being as far away from home as they are, and the first time they've stayed in a hotel or been on an airplane.
Kevin Smith, executive director of public affairs and executive director of the Twins Community Fund, also spoke at the banquet, sharing the Twins' excitement and enthusiasm in hosting the event.
Like those that run the RBI program, the Twins are thrilled to be able to provide such an excellent and unique opportunity to the members of the eight softball teams and 16 baseball teams that have qualified for the World Series this year.
In addition to that, the World Series will provide plenty of publicity and exposure for the Minnesota Twins and the Twin Cities.
"This is the first time a lot of these people have seen Target Field," Smith said. "I know it's the first time every single kid in this room tonight has seen Target Field, but it's also the first time a lot of these MLB people have seen Target Field as well. We're anxious and excited to show off our new ballpark and our community."
Smith said he planned to get out to the fields this week to watch some of the softball and baseball games, and shared his thoughts on who might be an early favorite to win.
"Absolutely. This is some of the best softball that you're going to see in the country, and it's right here in Minneapolis and St. Paul," Smith said. "I kind of like this L.A. team. They were the first team screaming and yelling at dinner, so you know they're ready to play."
Jordan Schelling is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.