BLOOMINGTON, Minn. -- Growing up in the inner city of Saint Paul, Minn., baseball was an integral part of the summer for Hall of Fame infielder Paul Molitor. As he grew up, Molitor followed a traditional path through the Little League, VFW and American Legion baseball programs.
Many of today's youth do not enjoy the same opportunities that Molitor did, but the Reviving Baseball in Inner Cities program has made strides toward increasing the popularity of baseball among teens, especially those in the inner cities.
Molitor was on hand Tuesday night at the Crowne Plaza Hotel and Suites Minneapolis Airport for the opening banquet, kicking off the baseball portion of the 19th RBI World Series.
"The biggest thing is that it provides the opportunity for kids who might otherwise not have the chance to be exposed to baseball and softball, as well as receiving coaching and mentoring along the way," Molitor said. "We're trying to keep baseball visible in all different communities. The inner city is a big part of that, and that's what we're trying to do here."
Molitor headlined a list of speakers that also included Twins president Dave St. Peter, Major League Baseball vice president of community affairs Tom Brasuell, MLB executive vice president of business Tim Brosnan and Sharon Robinson, MLB educational programming consultant and daughter of Hall of Famer Jackie Robinson.
Over the next week, 16 teams will compete in the junior boys (ages 13-15) and senior boys (16-18) divisions, with the top two teams in each division squaring off in championship games on Sunday at Target Field, home of the Twins.
In the senior division, teams from Chicago; Harrisburg, Pa.; Tampa, Fla.; Houston, Venice, Calif.; Cleveland, Venezuela and Jersey City, N.J.; will compete for the title. The junior teams are from Chicago, Philadelphia, Atlanta, Houston, Los Angeles, Detroit, Jersey City and the Dominican Republic.
The teams will have a workout day and watch the Twins take on the Red Sox in their series finale on Wednesday before beginning pool-play games Thursday morning.
Houston RBI won the senior boys championship last year, while Santo Domingo RBI took home the title in the junior division. Los Angeles RBI won the softball championship game Sunday for its second straight title.
St. Peter spoke before dinner, welcoming the RBI teams to Minnesota.
"We find it ironic that you're here in August and not in February, but you're all welcome back in February," St. Peter said, referring to the cold, snowy winters in the Twin Cities.
"It's a wonderful place to live, and I can tell you, it's a wonderful place for baseball. We are so privileged and honored to be working closely with Major League Baseball to have the RBI World Series."
St. Peter recalled when, in 1993, Hall of Famers Kirby Puckett and Dave Winfield teamed up to help start the Twins' RBI program in Saint Paul.
"Today, now 18 years later, we're hosting the RBI World Series," St. Peter said. "I know both of those gentlemen, Dave and Kirby, would be very, very proud of this event. I think that we got into this back then for the same reason we're in it today. It's about providing opportunities around this wonderful game of baseball."
Robinson shared essays from the winners of the contest, one player each from the junior and senior divisions. The writers of the winning essays each received laptops, to encourage each of them to "continue to write."
The winners of the awards were Chicago RBI's Aaron Fuller, who wrote about overcoming hearing and vision disabilities while playing baseball, and Jayraun Smith from Harrisburg, whose essay talked about his close relationship with his father.
Brosnan talked of the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity provided by the RBI World Series, and also recognized six of the 12 winners who were in attendance for RBI scholarships. Each winner received $5,000 per year toward their college education.
He also spoke highly of the Twins and their new home, Target Field, calling the park "one of the real great gems of Major League Baseball stadiums."
Said Brosnan of the job the Twins have done in hosting the tournament: "This will arguably be the best RBI World Series put on to date."
Molitor closed out the banquet, but not before he was introduced with a highlight reel of some of his greatest big league moments, including his 39-game hitting streak in 1987 with the Milwaukee Brewers and his 3,000th hit in '96 with the Minnesota Twins.
In addition to sharing the story of his life and how he got to where he is today, Molitor talked about opportunity. Specifically, he mentioned the fact that teens today are losing the opportunities that were once available to him to play the game of baseball.
Molitor also touched on the key elements of the RBI program, such as work ethic, discipline, teamwork, perseverance, character and learning accountability.
"We're proud to bring things to our community, especially when they have such a positive light to shine," Molitor said. "Minnesota has a great baseball tradition and heritage. Hopefully, we can leave these kids with some good memories."
Jordan Schelling is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.