MLB.com Columnist

Shannon Ford

Barnes a Cincinnati UYA success story

Reds committed to urban youth education

Barnes a Cincinnati UYA success story

CINCINNATI -- The clock ran out in what could've been a Cinderella finish for the Cincinnati Reds Senior RBI team in the game against Atlanta on Wednesday at Great American Ball Park.

Atlanta's offense came out swinging against Cincinnati with every starter smacking at least one hit in the first. Down 9-4 in the top of the fourth, Cincinnati put its foot on the pedal, closing the gap with a two-run double from Marc Gendreau. Unfortunately, the momentum was not enough in the 11-8 loss to Atlanta, but it was a showcase that had the hometown fans alive in the stands.

From the dugout, however, there was a different story to tell.

"This is why they're paying you the big bucks," chirped the teammates of center fielder, R.J. Barnes, who is one of the team's leaders and was selected by the Reds in the 2016 MLB Draft in June.

As he stepped up the plate at Great American Ball Park, Barnes got a taste of what it would be like to chase the dream with the Cincinnati Reds. Instead, he has opted to pursue his education at Morehouse College in the fall.

"It's always been a dream of mine to play in the Major Leagues however, I understand the importance of a college education so I decided to go to college and I'm going to keep working hard, hone my skills and try to come back again in a few years," said Barnes of the decision.

Four years ago, Barnes was a kid without a team to help hone his skills, but then he found a home at the P&G Cincinnati MLB Urban Youth Academy.

"RJ, I believe is a team player," said manager Roosevelt Barnes, who is also R.J.'s father. "He picks us up when we're down, he is a great citizen both on the field, but most importantly, off the field [and] he's really excited about the Draft, but even more excited to start his undergraduate career at Morehouse College."

Reviving Baseball in Inner Cities is the MLB youth initiative designed to provide young people from underserved and diverse communities the opportunity to play baseball and softball. In their second consecutive year as host, the Reds picked up a couple RBI alum as part of this year's Draft class, R.J. Barnes, selected in the 34th round and second overall pick, Hunter Greene.

"I've played with a few different programs and I feel like the RBI Reds have really just been there for us," said Barnes of his experience. "They've been there on the baseball side and they've been there to help us become better men and I feel like that's something that no other organization in Cincinnati has provided."

Barnes is just one of the success stories coming out of the Cincinnati Academy. Fourteen of his teammates are committed to play college baseball and 20 of the of the 21 are going to four-year institutions. With the band breaking up next year, coaches and executives of this team are hopeful they'll make a run at the RBI World Series championship.

"Seeing this year's senior team, many of them have been there for four years and before that we had a temporary space for about five years where a lot of those young men were working," reflected Charley Frank, executive director at the Cincinnati Reds Community Fund. "For them to have thrived these last two years, winning the East region, representing the city with such class on and off the field and knowing that that's their home, it's really allowed us to come full circle."

The P&G Cincinnati MLB Urban Youth Academy is a state-of-the-art complex paid for by P&G, MLB and gifts from the Reds owners, the Castellanis. The world-class training facility offers free, year-round baseball and softball instruction, as well as educational and vocational training.

"Sometimes I think I'm having more fun than these kids are in that place, but we've kind of named it our new country club," said manager Barnes. "It's a place for us to have fellowship with the players, there is so much going on there beyond just baseball."

The Reds' commitment to the city's urban youth is adamant and contributing to a positive shift in baseball momentum as MLB works to grow the game.

Shannon Ford is a contributor to MLB.com. Follow her on Twitter @Shannon__Ford. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.