By Samuel Havens
Special to The Black Voice News
Last Spring, on April 15th, Major League Baseball celebrated the 60th anniversary of Jackie Robinson's historic debut and the crossing of the baseball's color line. At Dodger Stadium, Jackie's wife Rachel stood at an infield podium and gazed at all the Los Angeles Dodger players who stood along the baseline, each wearing her husband's number 42.
Over the years they came; Jackie Robinson, Larry Doby, Buck O'Neil, Ernie Banks, Hank Aaron, Willie Mays and so on. The percentage of African American baseball players had reached over 30% by the 1980's, yet the numbers have dwindled in recent years. As recently as 1995, 20% of all professional ballplayers were African American. As the numbers fall below 9%, Major League Baseball has taken an active role to reverse the trend.
The salutes and tributes to Jackie Robinson are nice, very special indeed, however, these celebrations are a world away from the inner cities of America and the concrete neighborhoods without little league baseball diamonds. Without gloves, bats, balls and cleats, most kids simply follow something else.
Major League Baseball's RBI (Reviving Baseball in Inner Cities) was launched to dedicate resources in order to promote baseball to our urban youth. These resources include, clinics with top notch instruction, highly competitive leagues, (KPMG) diverse corporate business partners, Major League Baseball charities and the support of 30 major league clubs.
In 2006, Major League Baseball celebrated the opening of the Urban Youth Academy in Compton. Former major leaguer Darrell Miller is the director. Their mission statement is: "To set the standard for instruction, teaching and education in Urban America through the strength of the National Pastime and to enhance the quality of life in the surrounding communities."
RBI has grown since it's inception in 1989. Once a local program in South Central Los Angeles , RBI now thrives in over 200 cities in the United States and beyond the border. The initial program, under former major leaguer, John Young was conceived in order to cultivate African American talent for the Major League draft. RBI student athletes also receive academic support in SAT prep classes, time management and goal setting. John Young believes that each component is necessary to compete with suburban athletes.
In 2007, the RBI World Series moved to Major League Baseball's Urban Youth Academy in Compton. Detroit's Junior Boys became the first cold weather team to win an RBI World Series. Los Angeles won the Senior Boys title.
Roberto Clemente Jr. founded the RBI program in Pittsburgh and emphasizes the benefit of self-esteem and selfrespect that comes from this great game. He also promotes the educational components as he helps many realize a college scholarship based upon athletic skill and academic accomplishment.
The great Kansas City Monarch and Negro League legend Buck O'Neil dedicated the last 50 years of his life for the love of the game as he hoped that baseball would thrive once again and endure into the next century.