RBI players get lesson from Newcombe

RBI players get lesson from Newcombe

TORRANCE, Calif. -- The RBI World Series kicked off Wednesday evening with a welcome dinner, during which players received a living history lesson in the form of Don Newcombe.

Newcombe, the Brooklyn Dodgers legend who joined the club in 1949, two years after Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier, gave the keynote address at a roast beef and mashed potatoes dinner at the Marriott Torrance, where the players got their first look at each other.

"It's a great thing to hear his stories and to have it translate over to the kids now," said Shannon Williams, the manager of the Los Angeles Juniors team. "It's a wonderful thing for the kids. They're so young they probably don't appreciate the impact Don Newcombe, Jackie Robinson and those guys had on young kids and young coaches like myself that are coaching baseball, because if it weren't for him I wouldn't even be coaching baseball."

Newcombe -- who earned MVP, Cy Young and Rookie of the Year honors and was the first African-American pitcher to start a World Series game -- told stories about what it was like to integrate baseball.

The former pitcher enlightened an attentive audience with a fascinating account of how he got frustrated with having to stay in different hotels than the white players, so one day in St. Louis he joined Robinson in walking over to the white hotel to find out why. Robinson and Newcombe were surprised to find out they were not welcome because the owner did not want them swimming in the pool.

After the players promised not to take a swim, he let them in, a move that eventually led to the desegregation of a number of hotels in St. Louis.

Also in that same city, Robinson noticed a number of African-Americans not being let inside the stadium because the Cardinals capped admission to 3,000 persons of color. Robinson, Newcombe and Roy Campanella informed their manager they would not play that particular day because of that regulation, and the entire Dodgers squad followed suit.

Eventually, because of their efforts, all of the African-Americans who wanted to attend that day's game were let in.

"He's just been a great asset to baseball and a great person for these kids to learn from," said Tom Brasuell, MLB's vice president of community affairs. "Things certainly were a lot tougher when he played, but he shows that with what he went through and still made it, if these kids make it to Major League Baseball, the road's a little smoother for them, but certainly they can overcome many obstacles."

Matt Mazur, who plays for Cleveland's Juniors squad, said the speech was "inspirational" to his team.

"I'm not going to lie, I didn't know who he was before, but I know now," Mazur said. "You don't get to meet people like that every day."

The evening also included a speech by Tim Flynn, the chairman and CEO of RBI World Series sponsor KPMG, and the awarding of five of the six "RBI for RBI" scholarships to Angie Hidalgo of Harlem RBI, Randy Rivera of Puerto Rico RBI, David Williams of St. Louis RBI, Tobias Dorsett of Houston RBI and Cameron Hart of Los Angeles RBI, all of whom represent different geographical regions.

"It was important we picked somebody from every region," Brasuell said. "The kids, they love playing baseball and softball, but it was really heartwarming to say, 'Hey, one of us is a scholarship winner as well.'"

The initiative was created by MLB and KPMG this year to help college-bound RBI participants showing need with a $5,000 scholarship. Winners will be able to renew their scholarship until their post-secondary education is complete and will receive a recently-graduated KPMG employee as a mentor.

Williams, who joined Los Angeles' staff in 1998, has been to the Little League World Series but said no opening ceremony compares to those put on by the RBI World Series, particularly Wednesday's with Newcombe speaking and everybody excited to see each other for the first time.

The players will be able to meet on the field when competition starts Thursday morning after opening ceremonies, which Brasuell sensed the participants are quite excited for.

"I know the kids, in addition to just naturally waking up in the middle of the night because of the time difference," he said, "they'll also be waking up tonight because of the anxiety and the anxiousness of wanting to go compete tomorrow and see our great facilities at the [Urban Youth] Academy and play on the great fields and just meet these kids from all over the country."

Michael Schwartz is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.