RBI participants celebrate Dodger Day

Van Slyke, Taylor join Dodgers Foundation for youth baseball event

RBI participants celebrate Dodger Day

LOS ANGELES -- Nearly 500 youth baseball and softball players flooded Belvedere Park on Saturday to take part in RBI Opening Day and Dodger Day celebrations, hosted by the Los Angeles Dodgers Foundation.

The RBI (Reviving Baseball in Inner Cities) participants were all smiles thanks to appearances from Dodgers Scott Van Slyke and Chris Taylor on the sunny morning in East Los Angeles.

"As a Major Leaguer, you start to understand that the littlest gesture you can do, like showing up at an event like this, goes such a long way for the kids," Taylor said. "It means a lot to me because of that. I remember growing up and going to things like this and being in awe at seeing a professional baseball player."

The Dodgers' RBI program aims to help youth baseball and softball players in undersupported Los Angeles communities increase access to education, literacy, health, wellness and recreational resources through participation in sports. The event was presented by Partnership for a Healthier America's Drink Up campaign and ARCO.

Former Dodgers players Billy Ashley, Dennis Powell and Al Ferrara were also in attendance to help run clinics and sign autographs.

"A lot of times when we participate with the kids, they may not know who we are, but they know the [Dodgers] brand," Powell said. "We want to use this brand to help educate them, motivate them and make them more knowledgeable so they can become great members of our community."

Baseball and softball clinics kicked off the festivities, with activities ranging from baserunning, hitting, fielding and proper field conduct. The Natasha Watley Foundation, including the former Olympian and UCLA softball star, helped run the softball clinics, while the San Gabriel Valley Arsenal club baseball team helped run baseball clinics. Members of the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department assisted with the clinics as well.

"Today's a great day because we get to celebrate everyone -- the kids, parents, coaches and anyone who helps make this program possible," said Los Angeles Dodgers Foundation executive director Nichol Whiteman.

After the clinics ended, participants covered the infield grass at Dodgers Dreamfield at Belvedere Park as Whiteman, Los Angeles County Supervisor Hilda L. Solis, Los Angeles County director of parks and recreation John Wicker, Rod Dedeaux Foundation board member Ryan Hawkins and others spoke to the gathering from behind home plate.

Dodgers Spanish radio broadcaster Jorge Jarrin was the master of ceremonies.

"I look next to me and see all these former and current Dodgers greats and then I look out at this sea of blue and I know there are future Dodgers out there," Wicker said. "... This is a momentous day for East and Northeast Los Angeles."

Following the conclusion of the ceremony, kids were taken through exercises with Van Slyke and Taylor and were sent off to autograph sessions, meet and greets and giveaway stations at Dodgers Day. Country music artist Matt Stillwell also provided live entertainment.

The Dodgers' RBI program will serve over 7,800 players ages 5-18 this season through 57 locations in Greater Los Angeles County and Long Beach.

Ryan Posner is a contributor for MLB.com based in Los Angeles. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.