New York set to host fifth annual Jr. RBI Classic

New York set to host fifth annual Jr. RBI Classic

NEW YORK -- They're ready for their All-Star experience. Several youth teams from all corners of the country will converge on New York on Friday for the fifth annual Jr. RBI Classic, a friendly round-robin tourney that celebrates the Major League Baseball initiative to return baseball to urban areas.

RBI, which stands for Reviving Baseball in Inner cities, is now in its 24th season of providing opportunities to play baseball and softball to underprivileged communities. RBI leagues also stress the importance of education and teamwork at other things beyond the field of play.

But the foundation of RBI is providing equipment and a structured playing environment for kids who don't have access to either. MLB and its clubs have donated more than $30 million to RBI over the last 24 years and leagues now reach more than 200,000 children around the country.

Beginning in 2009, MLB launched the Jr. RBI divisions to allow children as young as five years old a chance to enter the program. The junior divisions run from kindergarten all the way up to age 12, and more than 9,500 children will participate in baseball or softball through Jr. RBI in 2013.

The Jr. RBI Classic, staged in a few ballparks arranged throughout Queens, will bring together teams from cities as far apart as Houston and Syracuse, N.Y. There will be local entrants from leagues in Harlem and in Newark, N.J., but the common theme is what they will all experience.

"The Jr. RBI Classic offers young participants of the Reviving Baseball in Inner Cities program a comprehensive and enriching experience," said David James, who took over as director of the RBI program in 2009. "This once-in-a-lifetime opportunity will give these kids the chance to meet peers from other parts of the country, stay on a college campus and participate in All-Star Week events.

"For many of these young people, this experience, all in the backdrop of the Midsummer Classic, will open their eyes to a world of possibilities, and we are proud to be a part of that."

Each of the participating teams will get uniforms, equipment and All-Star apparel donated by MLB. The young athletes will also have a chance to attend events like All-Star FanFest, the Futures Game and the Home Run Derby, and they'll meet some of their favorite athletes along the way.

And then they'll get to play ball. A few local venues in Queens -- College Point Fields and Cunningham Park for baseball and Alley Athletic Park and St. John's University for softball -- will play host to the four-day tourney, which will kick off Friday morning and wind through Monday. The players will also have a chance to take part in a clinic run by the Cal Ripken Sr. Foundation at Hinton Park.

A few of the teams involved in the tournament are brand new entrants to the RBI family. There's a team from Hartford, Conn., in fact, which is in its first season of play under the Jr. RBI umbrella. Two other leagues -- entrants from Los Angeles and Prince George's County, Md. -- began in 2012.

There are also some RBI leagues with demonstrated longevity in the tournament. Harlem RBI has been in existence since 1991, and the Detroit PAL RBI entrant has been in place since 1993. Two other leagues -- Colorado Rockies RBI and Olivet Boys & Girls Club -- are more than a decade old.

In addition, Major League Baseball extended a special invitation to a youth baseball team from Newtown, Conn., to participate in the Jr. RBI Classic.

"This group of young men represents a community that has endured and demonstrated the strength of the human spirit following an incredibly difficult ordeal," Commissioner Bud Selig said. "Major League Baseball is honored to give them this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to participate in the Jr. RBI Classic, and we join everyone throughout our sport in wishing them well as they enjoy this Midsummer Classic experience."

Spencer Fordin is a reporter for This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.