CINCINNATI -- The foundation of Major League Baseball's Reviving Baseball in Inner Cities program is opportunity. And as RBI opened its 25th World Series with opening ceremonies at the Cincinnati Urban Youth Academy on Monday night, special guest Dave Parker reflected on how the game brought tremendous opportunity to his life.
"My first plane ride came because of baseball," Parker, the longtime Pirates great, the 1978 National League MVP Award winner and two-time batting champ, told the players who had traveled from across the United States, Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic. "My first bus ride came because of baseball. Just looking at you guys makes me wish I was about 18 right now."
The young men and women gathered here -- including Mo'ne Davis, who rose to prominence during the 2014 Little League World Series and is competing with the Phillies' junior division RBI team -- have the opportunity to grow as people and to grow the game. For the members of the 24 baseball and softball teams involved, there will be games (the action begins with Tuesday's opening round of baseball and runs through the softball championship on Aug. 11) and workout days in front of professional scouts and college recruiters, with picnics and community service events interspersed throughout the experience.
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All 16 baseball teams taking part in the RBI World Series will get to play one game on the field at Great American Ball Park, and the senior baseball division and softball championship games will stream live on MLB.com.
"This thing was started by John Young in 1989 and is still going," said Tony Reagins, MLB's senior vice president of youth programs. "We're excited about the future and what it holds and being here in Cincinnati. We're doing a round-robin on a Major League diamond. Where does that happen? So these kids have a special opportunity to play our game. Hopefully they take their experiences back to their communities and share them with their friends and it allows us to continue to grow our league. This is really the lifeblood of our game -- young people."
Davis already inspired countless young people with her 2014 performance in Williamsport, Pa., where she became the first girl to earn a win and pitch a shutout in Little League World Series history. It landed her on the cover of Sports Illustrated, and her Phillies squad's win in the Mid-Atlantic Regional last week earned her a trip here. She'll pitch on the Major League mound Tuesday at 10:30 a.m., and she'll do so against a White Sox RBI team that actually features several kids from the Jackie Robinson West team that also garnered national attention at the 2014 Little League World Series.
The RBI program has had an increasing impact on professional rosters. There have been more than 75 RBI players taken in the 2013-17 MLB Drafts. In this year's Draft, Hunter Greene, taken No. 2 overall by the Reds, became the second-highest-selected alumnus of the program (Justin Upton went No. 1 overall in 2005).
That history was imparted upon the players who arrived here Monday. The opportunity -- the thought that you never know who's watching or what doors this experience might open -- was emphasized.
"Just looking at you guys," Parker said, "makes me feel great."
Let the games begin.
Anthony Castrovince has been a reporter for MLB.com since 2004. Read his columns and follow him on Twitter at @Castrovince. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.