RBI sets up shop in LA

By Blair Lovern
January 17, 2002

After more than a decade, the RBI (Reviving Baseball in Inner Cities) program will have its first permanent home, and in the city where the program was founded.

Dennis Gilbert Field at Los Angeles Southwest Community College was scheduled to be dedicated Jan. 20. It was named after the former agent, who donated the bulk of the more than $500,000 needed for construction.

Surrounding the field are a grandstand, press box, batting cages, wooden outfield fence and a classroom for RBI players. Lights are planned for the future, and parents will maintain the field.

The field comes after cutting through what RBI officials called more than “five years of red tape.”

More RBI diamonds could be built in the area, but the plan is also to help Los Angeles Southwest create a baseball team of its own. One hasn't existed in more than 20 years because there's been no field on campus.

The college is close to downtown Los Angeles, but RBI hopes the permanent field will allow more interaction between urban and suburban kids.

The RBI program was founded in Los Angeles in 1989 by John Young, a former Tigers first baseman who wanted to offer kids a chance away from drugs and gang violence. Currently there are more than 120 RBI affiliated programs worldwide for children ages 7-18.

Major League Baseball assumed RBI's administrative duties in 1991 and provides roughly $20,000 in start-up money for cities wanting to join. Also helping is the Sporting Goods Manufacturers Association, which donates equipment. However, cities look to other private sources for operating expenses, which, like at the Harlem RBI program in New York City, can approach up to $1 million.

MLB and the SGMA sponsor the RBI World Series, which matches eight cities' teams from the boys' junior (ages 13-15) and senior (16-18) divisions for a national championship.

“To get to the next level, you probably have to have a dreamer,” said Young in an earlier interview with Baseball America. “Somebody who is as interested in the inner cities as Peter O'Malley in Los Angeles is with baseball internationally. Too many owners see RBI not as income in terms of developing future players and fans, but as an expenditure.

“I see academies, like in the Dominican Republic. If you give me a million dollars, we'd have players coming out of here in droves. They'd blow away the talent on those little islands.”