Harmon statue unveiled at Cincinnati UYA

Harmon statue unveiled at Cincinnati UYA

CINCINNATI -- Chuck Harmon, the first African-American player in Cincinnati Reds history, looked admiringly at his own likeness. A new statue honoring him was unveiled Friday night at the entrance to the lavish new P&G Cincinnati MLB Urban Youth Academy, greeting young ballplayers who come here to play.

It was a beautiful moment. Think of what the multiple-sport star went through back in April 1954, when he helped integrate the national pastime in those early years after Jackie Robinson led the way breaking through Major League Baseball's color barrier.

Now here Harmon was, 91 years young, attending the Opening Ceremonies of MLB's Jr. RBI Classic during All-Star Week, seeing hundreds of inner-city kids who came from Alabama and Louisiana and New Jersey. No one cared that it was raining. In the many years ahead, kids will come here and look at the ballplayer with a glove reaching for a baseball, and they'll find out about Chuck Harmon.

"With all these people here, giving you honor, you can't beat this," Harmon said. "You remember this all your life. It's great to be here.

"The Reds and [Major League] Baseball, everybody is pitching in and helping out and the honor they show and things like that. You just can't beat this. You just can't beat all these people in the rain out here celebrating. The statue is great. Thank God it will be here for years."

MLB and the Reds began the seventh annual friendly round-robin tournament designed to provide hundreds of young RBI (Reviving Baseball in Inner Cities) baseball and softball players with an opportunity to participate in All-Star Week. The tournament consists of eight baseball and four softball teams of 11-12-year-olds from around the U.S., including both a baseball and softball team from the Cincinnati Reds RBI program.

The Jr. RBI Classic Opening Ceremony was scheduled to take place on Don Johnson Field at the academy, which was renovated through the 2015 All-Star Game Community Legacy effort due to high playing demand from multiple age levels of youth baseball. Renovations include the installation of a turf infield to allow for youth participation of all ages, as well as a rebuild of the outfield and irrigation system. The new functional format allows the opportunity to host tournaments such as the Jr. RBI Classic.

The rain forced the Opening Ceremony indoors, but that was OK because they just happened to have a magnificent indoor field for the young ballplayers here. Johnson, a Negro Leaguer and Cincinnati native, was honored along with Harmon in the ceremony. Others in attendance included Hall of Famer Joe Morgan from the Big Red Machine; Dave Parker, who earned two of his seven All-Star selections while with his hometown Reds in 1985-86; Reds chief operating officer Phil Castellini; David James, MLB senior director of RBI; and Steve Pacella, Cincinnati's director or recreation.

"This city is on fire," Parker said, referring to the nine field dedications and widespread All-Star Community Legacy events that have been taking place in advance of Tuesday's 86th All-Star Game presented by T-Mobile. "And you can feel the flame."

The rain couldn't put out that flame.

Or the "torch" that Parker said Harmon and Johnson carried for him and so many future African-American ballplayers.

Morgan told the assembled RBI kids that he had one tip, and that is to "have fun." He invoked a famous saying of one of his contemporary National League All-Stars -- and Parker's former Pirates teammate -- Willie Stargell: "They don't say, 'Work ball,' they say, 'Play ball.'" That got the kids' attention.

Everyone went from the gym out to the main entrance island leading to the three ballfields, and that's where Harmon's statue was unveiled. Tom Tsuchiya created the statue, through support from MLB, the Reds and the Reds Community Fund, and at the ceremony he called this work "The Glove." Tsuchiya noted that Harmon had a glove for every position on the field, and he chose the one he used at third base to be memorialized at the hot corner.

"Oh, I had plenty. I had enough to last," Harmon said.

"I always made sure I had one. I played anywhere they let me."

During the All-Star Game presented by T-Mobile in Cincinnati on Tuesday, fans can once again visit MLB.com to submit their choice for the Ted Williams Most Valuable Player Award presented by Chevrolet. Voting exclusively at MLB.com, online and via their mobile devices in the 2015 All-Star Game MVP Vote presented by Chevrolet, the fans' collective voice will represent 20 percent of the overall vote that determines the recipient of the Arch Ward Trophy.

MLB.TV Premium subscribers will be able to live stream the All-Star Game via MLB.TV through FOX's participating video providers. Access will be available across more than 400 supported MLB.TV platforms, including the award-winning MLB.com At Bat app. MLB.com will provide extensive online coverage of the All-Star Week festivities, including the 2015 Gillette Home Run Derby presented by Head & Shoulders, part of Gatorade All-Star Workout Day on Monday. The Derby will feature a new format with brackets and timed rounds, and it will be broadcast live by ESPN and MLB.com beginning at 8 p.m. ET.

The 86th Midsummer Classic will be televised nationally by FOX Sports (coverage begins 7 p.m. ET), in Canada by Rogers Sportsnet and RDS, and worldwide by partners in more than 160 countries. ESPN Radio and ESPN Radio Deportes will provide exclusive national radio coverage of the All-Star Game. MLB Network and SiriusXM will also provide comprehensive All-Star Week coverage. For more information, please visit allstargame.com.

Mark Newman is enterprise editor of MLB.com. Read and join other baseball fans on his MLB.com community blog. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.