Spring thrill for Chicago RBI Junior All-Stars

In surprise trip, youths play Arizona club, work out with Cubs players, attend Cactus game

Spring thrill for Chicago RBI Junior All-Stars

MESA, Ariz. -- Jalen Lemons, 15, promised he was going to hit a home run. Jose Alvarado, 15, didn't want to let go of the catcher's mitt that Kyle Schwarber gave him.

"Being here is awesome," Alvarado said. "It was my first plane ride ever. That was an experience. And this is my first time in Arizona ever."

Spring Training information

Lemons and Alvarado were part of the RBI (Reviving Baseball in Inner Cities) Junior All-Star team from Chicago that was treated to a Spring Training weekend. The players and coaches arrived Friday night, then played against an Arizona RBI team on Saturday at Sloan Park. They worked out with the Cubs players later Saturday, then watched the Cactus League game in Goodyear against the Indians.

"They're getting an experience that they've never had before and possibly may never have again," Cubs manager Joe Maddon said. "That's part of our responsibility to make it possible."

Most of the kids were from the South Side of Chicago, which is White Sox territory.

"It's all about kids," Maddon said. "If they choose to be White Sox fans, I don't care. Just that they want to play baseball, they want to get involved, that's what matters."

Carrie Muskat / MLB.com

Chicago coach Ernest Radcliffe said the players were surprised by the trip during a Skype message.

"Anthony Rizzo comes on, and he's like, 'Hey, guys, how are you doing? I'm Anthony Rizzo,' and everybody knew who he was, of course," Radcliffe said.

The players had been told there would be a clinic, but Rizzo then described the weekend's events. American Airlines flew the team to Arizona, and Starwood took care of the accommodations.

"Some of these kids have never been outside of Chicago," Radcliffe said.

Schwarber and Cubs reliever Pedro Strop met with the players, answered questions and gave some tips. Schwarber, who grew up in Ohio, told the players that he had high school friends who were more athletic than he was but made bad decisions in their lives and never had the opportunity to go pro.

"It looks like you guys have good people around you," Schwarber said. "Keep making good decisions, and it'll all work out."

Kyle Schwarber meets with the Chicago RBI Junior All-Star teamCarrie Muskat/MLB.com

The players were surprised when Schwarber said he used to play football. They wanted to know how he got out of a slump, and about catching techniques. The kids asked Strop how fast he could throw a fastball and his salary.

"I used to play shortstop," Strop said. "That's the reason I became a pitcher was because I couldn't hit. I'm a way better pitcher."

Lemons told the coaches and anyone who would listen that he planned on hitting a ball out of Sloan Park.

"I've got to," Lemons said, smiling. "This is past cool -- this is unbelievable."

In his first at-bat, Lemons was hit by a pitch, and lifted from the game. He was fine, and was able to get another at-bat. This time, he came through on his promise, launching a ball that rolled to the wall for an inside-the-park home run.

Carrie Muskat is a reporter for MLB.com. She writes a blog, Muskat Ramblings. You can follow her on Twitter @CarrieMuskat and listen to her podcast. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.