Youth baseball, softball growing as tournament nears an end in Cincinnati
By Cody Pace
CINCINNATI -- For the past two weeks, MLB vice president of youth programs David James has been watching boys and girls from ages 13-18 play in the Reviving Baseball in Inner Cities (RBI) World Series. From his perspective, the game is thriving in the younger generation.
"I believe the game is in a really good place," James said. "Every year around Jackie Robinson Day on the baseball side, they say African-American kids aren't playing. They relate that to what the participation rate is at the Major League level, and that's going to take however long it takes and on a talent level, but what we've seen both at the regional tournaments, what we've seen here, the game is very strong and it's growing."
On Tuesday, the World Series will conclude with the softball championship game between Cleveland RBI and the Dominican Republic RBI. The boys' tournament concluded Aug. 8.
With Monday being the last time James addressed the group of eight softball teams, he had a chance to reflect on Cincinnati's first RBI World Series, and came away impressed by the organization's involvement.
"For the first year with the Reds, it's been a seamless transition," James said. "The Reds' commitment to this has been impressive. Not just the physical facility of the academy, which is fantastic, but just their level of involvement with the Reds Community Fund staff. I know they've got other jobs to do -- not just RBI 24/7 -- but the level of support that they've provided has been fantastic."
Showcasing the Reds' commitment, chief operating officer Phil Castellini addressed the nearly 100 players at the Kingsgate Marriot Conference Center to announce a change in the organization's plan to host the players at Great American Ball Park on Monday night. Castellini offered to upgrade the entire group's seats to field level as long as they promised to cheer for the Reds.
It's things like this that showcase the second mission of RBI. While its main purpose is to get kids in underserved communities involved in playing baseball and softball, it also serves to try to increase the interest in baseball among the younger generation.
As far as the tournament goes, Cincinnati will host for a second time next year. The one thing James said he would like to see go differently is to get the Cincinnati community more involved.
"I think one of the things that we will want to work with the Reds on moving forward is really getting the word out more locally, within that Roselawn neighborhood, within the other youth baseball, youth softball landscape in the greater Cincinnati area of getting those folks to come out and support it and watch these kids play," James said.
Bigger changes could be coming on the softball side, though. Eventually, RBI would like to expand the softball side to be a 16-team tournament, like the baseball tournament. While that may not be in the cards for next year, James said that he and Craig Cress, the executive director for the Amateur Softball Association (ASA)/USA Softball, have had discussions about things that they could do "right away" to expand the tournament.
The softball showcase will also feature an increased presence from college scouts as USA Softball's Destinee Martinez, a former player for the organization, announced a joint effort to get the girls more exposure.
"It'll help us grow it," James said. "That's the main reason why we entered into this relationship with USA Softball. The Commissioner [Rob Manfred] has really promoted inclusion in all things that we do, so we knew that we needed to step up our game as it related to how do we grow the softball program."
Cody Pace is a reporter for MLB.com based in Cincinnati. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.