Students take center stage at Harlem RBI

Mets, Brewers focus on fun aspects of baseball at annual event

Students take center stage at Harlem RBI

HARLEM, N.Y. -- It may not be Citi Field or Yankee Stadium, but for a couple hours Friday afternoon, the epicenter of New York baseball was the Harlem R.B.I. baseball complex.

New York Mets Curtis Granderson and Eric Campbell, as well as a handful of Milwaukee Brewers -- including Chris Capuano, Kirk Nieuwenhuis and Zach Davies -- joined together in Harlem on Friday with the students from the New York Center for Autism Charter School to teach, encourage and play with the children over an afternoon of baseball. The event, which is now in its fourth year, featured makeshift hitting, fielding and running drills run by the players, who traded their competitive edges for a mentality of fun -- something that obviously showed through in their actions.

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"It really does help your perspective doing it," Capuano said. "It's hard to be in a bad mood when you're running and playing around with these kids. They're just so happy. They really just show us what's important."

The afternoon began with a young girl named Violet throwing out the ceremonial first pitch after a couple of announcements and recognitions, before bringing the players onto the field, starting with the youngest and progressively working up in age. Each kid was given the opportunity to run the bases, field grounders and popups from the pros and then swing -- either off the tee or off a soft toss from one of the players -- and round the bases once more for the opportunity to score.

Perhaps the best skill the pros showed off was their ability to embellish, slowing down on the bases to help the kids throw and tag out runners, and even dramatically acting out falls when tagged. The fundamentals were certainly on display throughout the event, but in Granderson's mind, those, while important, were secondary to the true meaning of the day.

"The biggest thing is that they just had fun," the Mets outfielder said. "That's the motto that I keep to this day at 35. It's the same motto I had when I was 6 years old. And these kids were definitely doing that today."

Curtis Granderson tosses a ball to a student during Friday afternoon's event. (MLB.com)MLB.com

Maybe the most entertaining aspect of the day came from behind the announcer's table, though, as Violet joined the commentary team to add her own analysis to the day's events. She consistently kept smiles on the faces of everyone by colorfully describing kids running the bases as like Bugs Bunny or similar summations. But one call had everyone in the park smiling.

"She's running like a princess," Violet said emphatically after one of the female students recorded her first hit of the day. "It's like it's 12 o'clock at midnight."

One of the people who laughed the hardest was Granderson, who hypothesized that Keith Hernandez might have a little bit of competition in the broadcast booth.

"Any time you can get some hype that can get you thinking a little bit different and get you back focused on the game, it's always good," he said. "If we need some interns over at Citi Field, we should definitely look over here first."

Nick Suss is a reporter for MLB.com based in New York. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.