A number of black professional baseball players are the sons of former MLB stars. Two are in the Phillies locker room. John Mayberry Jr.’s dad was a slugger for the Kansas City Royals and Tony Gwynn Jr’s father is a Hall of Famer.
“We were fortunate,” Gwynn Jr. said. “Our fathers played ball in the majors. If only young African-American’s could come in to the clubhouse like I did when I was a kid and see this. It’s a fun place to be right here. The kids today need to see how great baseball can be.”
The aptly named RBI (Reviving Baseball in Inner Cities) program has been helping reintroduce baseball to the black community.The Phillies RBI program is thriving.
“We’re one of the bigger RBI programs in the nation,” Fan Development Program Manager/RBI administrator Jon Joaquin said. “I’ve been doing this for 14 years and we’ve expanded a great deal over the last decade in North Philadelphia, West Philadelphia and Southwest Philadelphia.”
RBI is designed to provide youngsters from underserved communities the opportunity to play baseball and softball. There is a junior RBI program (6-12 years old) and RBI (13-18).
“The objective is to introduce and sustain baseball play for these children but it’s also more than that,” Joaquin said. “We also try to hone life skills, sportsmanship and leadership, as well as teamwork.”
According to Joaquin, the program’s numbers surged since the Phillies started their run in 2007.
“The Phillies success helped the program expand,” Joaquin said. “Kids from the inner city got behind their idols. They love Chase Utley, Ryan Howard and Jimmy Rollins. We’ve had a great deal of success.”
There are 6,000 children participating in the Junior RBI program and 2,000 in the RBI segment in the Delaware Valley.But Gwynn Jr. believes more has to be done to expose urban youth to the joys of baseball.
“We have to figure something out to drive up the numbers,” The speedy outfielder said. “If only all kids knew how great baseball is to play. I chose it over the other sports.”
So did Dee Gordon, who now starts at second base for the Dodgers. Gordon played basketball and football primarily until he picked up a glove at 17.
“It took him that long to focus on baseball,” his father/former Phillies closer Tom Gordon said. “But he grew to love it and with his skill set has become a really good ballplayer. Baseball is a great choice for any kid. Most likely an athletic kid will be really good at a number of sports.”
Take Dave Winfield, who was drafted by the Minnesota Vikings, Atlanta Hawks and the San Diego Padres. Winfield wisely selected the latter and is enshrined in Cooperstown. Duringhis Hall of Fame acceptance speech, he noted that he made the right choice, considering possible injury in football and his love of baseball.
“Yeah, but he was exposed to baseball and look what happened,” Gwynn Jr. said. “We have to get these kids exposed to baseball any way we can.”