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Jr. R.B.I. Classic brings inner-city teams together

Jr. R.B.I. Classic brings inner-city teams together

NEW YORK -- The Jr. R.B.I. Classic resumed at three serene parks in Queens on Sunday, picking up after a day of the tournament was washed away by rain. The fifth annual tourney, staged as a celebration of the R.B.I. program's expansion into youth baseball, brought teams from all over the country together.

R.B.I., which stands for Reviving Baseball in Inner Cities, now reaches more than 200,000 children around the country, and the ages of players range from 5-18. The Jr. R.B.I. Classic has kids in the 11- and 12-year-old age group, with eight teams for baseball and four for softball.

Saturday's morning and afternoon games were washed away by rain, but the players spent the day at the All-Star FanFest at the Jacob Javits Center. Sunday's schedule would bring a morning game and then an entire day spent at Citi Field, host to the Taco Bell All-Star Sunday events.


Eleven of the entrants to the tournament fall under the R.B.I. banner, but one qualified as a special guest. Major League Baseball invited a team from Newtown, Conn. -- the scene of the traumatic school shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary School last December -- to be part of the tournament.

"They're not an official R.B.I. program, but Major League Baseball wanted to see what it could to to help their community," said David James, director of the R.B.I. program. "Several of us had the opportunity a few months ago to go and talk to representatives of Newtown baseball to see if they'd like to join us, and I think they're having a wonderful time just being viewed as one of the 12 teams."

So it was that Newtown and Newark -- two teams separated by 90 miles of highway -- found themselves squaring off at Cunningham Park on Sunday. The two teams kept score but didn't obsess over every out and every inning, and both sides exhibited sportsmanship on a collision at first base.

Families lined both sides of the field, and the game ended prematurely in order for the teams to have time to clean up and head to Citi Field. But before they headed to the bus, the Newtown team gave gifts -- a Newtown Stay Strong bracelet and a Newtown baseball pin -- to the Newark R.B.I. team.

That gesture, in and of itself, spoke volumes about the tournament's intent and execution. Joe Mailloux, the manager of the Newtown baseball team, said it was great to see his players bond with each other and with their opponents over the course of the four-day weekend trip to New York.

"It's a great honor for us to be here," Mailloux said. "It's a great memory for the kids to enjoy the experience, meet new friends and have a good time playing baseball. We were surprised and really appreciative to be invited to the tournament. We're thankful they reached out to our community."

Newtown and Newark were on one side of the field at Cunningham Park on Sunday, and another game pitting teams from Syracuse, N.Y. and Prince George's County, Md., played across from them. Newark, an R.B.I. league since 2009, beat Newtown on Sunday, but shared the experience of a lifetime.

Dr. Vincent DeVincentis, coach of the Newark entrant to the tournament, said his players were thrilled to have a chance to sleep in dorms at St. John's University and to have a chance to go to Citi Field. It was a life-changing experience for them, he said, even if it was so close to home.

"These kids, a lot of them are with us from four years old," DeVincentis said of the RBI program. "You see dramatic improvement over the years, and baseball is the bait to get them in.

"For us, it's about teaching certain traits and attributes that are going to help them through life. Loyalty. Dedication. Teamwork. Hard work. Responsibility. Education, the top of the list. Those are the things that are going to take them someplace. Those are the things we want to stress."

Though the Newark team, clad in Yankee colors, beat the Newtown team in Met orange on Sunday, nobody took much interest in the score. Team-building and character-building moments were the order of the day, and the Jr. RBI Classic will conclude with one more day of games on Monday.

Mailloux doesn't want to speak much of the tragedy that unfolded in his hometown, but he knows that it's a moment that changed the world forever. People from all over have reached out to support Newtown, and Mailloux said his town will be forever grateful.

"It means more than words can say," Mailloux said. "And not just America. Honestly, it's the whole world. The support and outreach that we've received has been incredible. It seemed like probably every country on the planet, especially right after, in all the letters and gifts and goodwill we've received."

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

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