On Friday night, the softball teams got the chance for a quick celebration with a banquet at Target Field before play starts on Saturday.
The eight softball teams -- Cleveland (East), Harrisburg (Mid-Atlantic), Hoboken, N.J. (Northeast), Atlanta (Southeast), Santo Domingo (Carribean), St. Louis (Central), Houston (Southwest), Hilo, Hawaii (West), all of which comprised last year's field -- were treated to a quick awards ceremony, but not before Wendy Lewis, Major League Baseball's senior vice president of diversity and strategic alliances, shared some wise words as the keynote speaker.
Lewis looked out over the tables of athletes and noted they were there "not by coincidence, not by happenstance." They were there because of their commitment to the game.
But it was MLB educational consultant Sharon Robinson, daughter of the late Jackie Robinson, who introduced one girl who singlehandily demonstrates her love and commitment to softball every time she steps on the field.
Each year, along with the RBI for RBI scholarships, the RBI program also puts together a Breaking Barriers essay contest where each team submits one essay for consideration.
Before introducing the 2013 softball winner, Robinson shared her story, that of a tragic loss.
Shannon Vecchio of Cleveland RBI lost her mother at a very young age to breast, brain and lung cancer. After bonding with her father, she soon had to choose just one sport to play due to financial reasons. Vecchio chose softball and put everything she had into the sport.
It all paid off during her sophomore year in high school, when Vecchio earned a starting spot on her varsity team. As she overcame new obstacles -- like playing varsity only a year after she started playing fast pitch -- Vecchio faced a whole new struggle. Tragic loss struck her life once again, this time losing her father after he had a heart attack.
With a doubleheader scheduled the day after a long night in the hospital, no one on Vecchio's team expected her to play. But she suited up and was ready to go on the bus. "I knew that softball was my chance to get away from reality," Vecchio wrote.
Vecchio got through the day by playing the game she loves during one of the toughest moments of her life.
"My team never let me feel like it was me against the world; it was all of us against anything thrown at us," Vecchio said.
As she walked up to the front of the room with a standing ovation from her fellow competitors and anyone else present -- most with tears in their eyes -- Vecchio's words that Robinson had just shared hung over the crowd.
Softball, Vecchio wrote, "It has helped me forge friendships that I plan on keeping for the rest of my days, it has helped me out of the darkest part of my life and it showed me a few qualities that I never thought I had."