"Jackie was more than baseball," ESPN analyst Joe Morgan said. A Hall of Fame baseball player, Morgan stressed the significance of the RBI program to around 100 Harlem RBI participants.
"Sports teaches you responsibility. ... It teaches you how to deal with the ups and downs of life, because no one is going to be on top all the time," Morgan said.
Mets outfielder Jeremy Reed also stressed the importance of self-belief and urged the group of teenage baseball and softball players to follow their dreams.
"I couldn't think of a better way to help what Jackie Robinson has done to the game and done for the game," Reed said of the RBI program.
"I'm just glad I can help in whatever way I can."
Since its inception in 1979, RBI has had more than 1 million participants. The youth outreach program is designed to increase participation and interest in baseball/softball, encourage academic achievement, teach the value of teamwork and promote greater inclusion of minorities in the game.
Developed by former scout and Major Leaguer John Young, RBI has supported programs in all 30 MLB cities. To date, more than 170 RBI participants have been drafted into the Major Leagues.
"The thing about the RBI, and Harlem RBI specifically, is they don't just prepare kids to be baseball players," said Sharon Robinson, daughter of Jackie Robinson. "They are really preparing young men for their total character and developing that."
Sharon Robinson said her father would be proud to see programs like RBI help inner-city teens.
"My father was very devoted to youth, so he would have loved [the RBI mission], and particularly to the Harlem community, where he started so many other programs," she said. "He would have loved the fact that on Jackie Robinson Day, we were out in the community in Harlem with young baseball players."
The event was sponsored by Nike, which provided apparel to all the RBI participants. The program joined forces with their Families for Literacy campaign to give each teen a copy of Sharon Robinson's children's book, "Jackie's Nine." The book offers insight into the nine values of Jackie Robinson's life, and stresses things like teamwork, effort and respect.
"That's what I really like about the RBI program," Morgan said. "It's more than just baseball. It's teaching you how to be good citizens, it's teaching you about things you are going to encounter in your life as you grow forward."
Of course a little baseball never hurts. The Mets organization donated tickets for all Harlem RBI participants to attend Wednesday night's game against the Padres.
"With this field and what they do for RBI and the young kids around here," Reed said, "how could you possibly not be here and want to be a part of this?"