Venice tops defending RBI champ on first day
Venezuela, Tampa each win two games in senior action
ST. PAUL, Minn. -- After the Venice (Calif.) Academy's Reviving Baseball in Inner Cities (RBI) senior baseball team lost in the regional finals last season, coach James Bishop had a tough time letting go of falling one game short of the RBI World Series.
"I was sick about that game," Bishop said. "I didn't show up to the academy for about a week."
Bishop didn't have reason to be bothered this season.
Venice returned to the RBI World Series in a big way Thursday. In a matchup of the past two senior division champions, 2009 champion Venice beat defending champion Houston, 15-5.
Four players return from the 2009 title team, but even after winning the West Region, Venice had to wait a while before getting its shot at redemption. Two weeks passed between winning the region championship and the first game of this year's round-robin portion of the tournament.
"They were very eager to get out here," Bishop said. "We have a lot of good kids. They love baseball and it makes our job easier. These kids are workaholics. That's what you want them to do to get to the next level."
There is work ahead for Venice, though. The second game proved winning another title won't be easy. During the evening session, Venezuela beat Venice, 8-1.
Venezuela, the first-ever South American team in the 19-year history of the RBI World Series, ended the first day of competition undefeated. The Caribbean region representatives also beat the Chicago Cubs RBI squad, 5-1.
Tampa is also undefeated in the senior division after beating Jersey City, 14-10, and Cleveland, 7-4. Harrisburg beat Cleveland, 13-6, and tied Jersey City, 13-13, in the evening.
Houston beat the Chicago Cubs, 4-2, in other senior division action.
Venezuela proved its worth with two wins, but a matchup between the past two champions was the highlight matchup of the first day of action in the senior division.
Venice scored three runs in the bottom of the first and added runs in all but one inning. The team also showed a bit of power, hitting two home runs and two ground-rule doubles. Damon Aikins was a single shy of the cycle and hit two homers to go with five RBIs and four runs scored.
"We're a line-drive-hitting team," Bishop said. "As you know, this park is a little small. That can be a good thing and it can be a bad thing. Some of the guys get up there and start swinging from their heels. We just want them to hit line drives and hard ground balls."
While Houston is the defending champion, the Southwest representatives aren't necessarily experienced. Only three players return from last year's title team.
"It will be a challenge," Houston coach Brian White said. "We always have a tough end of the draw every time we come here. They make it difficult. It was difficult last year.
"But that's what it's all about."
The challenges began early against Venice.
"I was kind of upset that we didn't really play well because I know that we are capable of playing with anybody," White said.
The defending champions in the junior division didn't cruise to victory, but the Dominican Republic managed an opening-round win. The Dominicans beat the Chicago White Sox, 6-2.
Dominican coach Christian Pimentel said his team doesn't feel the pressure of defending its championship.
"We are not scared," Pimentel said through interpreter Ismael Pena, a player on the team. "We have solid players. We have defense, offense and we are a better team than last year. I think we have the possibility to win this year."
Los Angeles' junior division team beat Houston, 12-2. Atlanta earned a 13-8 win over Jersey City. Philadelphia won, 13-6, against Detroit in other junior action.
Brian Hall is a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.