MLB lauds RBI youth before Game 2

MLB lauds RBI youth before Game 2

ST. PETERSBURG -- Before Carl Crawford took the field on Thursday night, the Rays outfielder was on hand to greet young members of Reviving Baseball in Inner Cities (RBI), a program that Crawford was a part of while growing up in Houston.

The RBI program was presented with a $1 million dollar check from KPMG, and representatives from the three winning RBI teams -- Los Angeles senior boys, Santo Domingo senior girls and Detroit junior boys -- posed with Crawford at Tropicana Field.

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"These are some life-changing experiences," director David Jones said of the event, which flew the group of youngsters to Game 2 of the World Series at Tropicana Field.

"I think now, in a lot of cases when they face a challenge in the community, they are going to make the right choice, which isn't always the easy one. But instead, maybe they will think outside the box."

RBI is a youth outreach program designed to increase participation and interest in baseball while also promoting a greater inclusion of minorities in the game.

Crawford is one of eight RBI alumni who played this October, joining Coco Crisp and Manny Delcarmen (Boston Red Sox); James Loney and James McDonald (Los Angeles Dodgers); CC Sabathia and Yovani Gallardo (Milwaukee Brewers); and Jimmy Rollins (Philadelphia Phillies).

For kids like Detroit's Michael Calloway, watching Crawford and Rollins on the field was living proof that the 16-year-old could thrive in his inner city.

"It's somebody who [they think] looks like me, who may have grown up in an environment similar to what I grew up," Jones said. "It's showing that there is an alternative."

RBI completed its 20th season in 2008. From its inception in 1989, RBI has grown from a local program for boys in South Central Los Angeles to an international campaign encompassing more than 200 cities and as many as 120,000 male and female participants per year.

This year, the fund provided annual $5,000 scholarships to six selected RBI players who demonstrated academic achievement, leadership skills and financial need and who plan to attend an accredited two- or four-year college, university, vocational school or technical school.

Cameron Hart, 18, was one of those who earned the scholarship, and he stood on the Tropicana Field turf on Thursday with a mixed look of awe and excitement.

"It's a once-in-a-lifetime experience," Hart said. "And as you keep getting older, you just want to be here [playing]. It gives you something to look forward to, and with RBI, they teach you that anything is possible."

Crawford, who spoke at a school pep rally on Tuesday, encouraged that line of thinking.

"The RBI organization gave me the exposure I needed to find the right people," Crawford said. "And I took advantage of it."

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