SARASOTA, Fla. -- This is definitely a friendship that runs deep. Reds manager Dusty Baker first met Richard Ryles almost 40 years ago in West Palm Beach, Fla. Ryles was just 6 years old when his family hosted Baker's Braves teammate Ralph Garr. It was still the late 1960s. "I was with a different family. Back then, housing was difficult for African-Americans," Baker said. "We had to stay with families, because there weren't any places that would rent to us."
"Ralph and Dusty were best friends and I would see him every day," said Ryles, now 45. "We maintained contact throughout his years with the Dodgers, Giants and Cubs." Ryles grew up without a father in his life, and although Baker was only 13 years older, he helped fill some of the void. Ryles went on to college at the University of Illinois, where he played football. Now he's a successful attorney back in his hometown of West Palm Beach, Fla. On Saturday, Ryles wanted a group of boys to be inspired by Baker the same way he was. Baker and the Reds hosted Ryles and nearly 80 young African-American men and boys with tickets to the game against the Braves. Two bus loads made the 3 1/2-hour drive across Florida. "There's a crisis in my town for young males," Ryles said. "Dusty was an inspirational person in my life. I saw this as an opportunity to meet someone that was influential in my success. We have young people getting into crime and not moving forward or progressing in life. Many of them, like me, grew up in homes without fathers. I thought it would be great for some men from my church to get together and put our arms around some young people without fathers at home." Ken Griffey Jr., Norris Hopper, Ted Power, Baker and his coaching staff met and talked with the kids before the game. After the game, the group had a barbecue in the Ed Smith Stadium party area. "It's nice to have known somebody for so long and see them succeed, do well and then take it back to the community in more ways than just talking about it," Baker said. "He's trying to pass on to some of the guys some of the things that were passed along to him. "Hopefully, it'll stir some interest, especially in the African-American community about playing baseball. All the kids I talked to played football and basketball. I don't think any played baseball. For a lot of guys, it was probably the first time they've been to a ballpark." After Saturday, it might not be the last.
Mark Sheldon is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.