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The Power of Inspiration: Cleveland Guardians Charities RBI program

MLB's Reviving Baseball in Inner Cities, or RBI program, instills lifelong lessons on and off the field

CLEVELAND — The first thing you notice when you get to the Jim Thome All-Star Complex - is that the talent level here is top shelf.

The coaching is also elite. And the lessons they’re teaching here, don’t always deal with the game of baseball. 

 "Our coaches are very humble," said Raphael Collins. "We've got four coaches on each team....and they're just community champions. People that we know can lead children to play not just the game of baseball, but teach them life skills that they can get as a result of playing a game."

Collins is the Assistant Director for Community Impact and Diversity Initiatives for the Cleveland Guardians. He helps run the Cleveland Guardians Charities RBI program, which consists of some of the best young baseball and softball players in all of Cleveland. They’re an all-star travel team ranging in age from 13-18.  

"The kids that we have here, these kids are primarily city of Cleveland, CMSD children. So our goal is to recruit the best athletes from our Cleveland public schools, give them the resources so that they feel like they're major leaguers and let them play," he said.

RBI stands for "Reviving Baseball in Inner Cities," and the program is designed to not only increase youth with diverse backgrounds into the mainstream of the game, and increase the number of talented athletes to play in college and professionally, it also encourages academic achievement.  It’s an effort 3News Contributor Matt Kaulig has long supported - and now, as one of the new minority owner partners of the Cleveland Guardians, he is more invested than ever. He explained to the players that they are also seen as role models.

"I want to tell you on behalf of the Guardians and really the city of Cleveland of how proud we are of you guys, you guys are great representatives of our city and our team. And you should take a lot of pride in representing Cleveland." said Kaulig.

Cleveland Guardians Charities covers expenses for Cleveland Municipal School District baseball and softball programming every year; providing players like TJ Pickett the opportunity to take the sport to the next level.

"[The program] really helps out my mom knowing that it's free and all that, he told Matt. "And you know, just having that family, you know, I never really had that until I came to RBI. So you know, [it means] everything,"

Many of these coaches know the value of this program, because they came through it as players, so they know firsthand what making this team means to these players. Coaches like Sebastian Jenkins, the Head Coach of the Junior baseball team.

"I'm an RBI kid myself," he said. "I've been playing since I was 13. So being able to come back and coach and be a head coach at Junior RBI is amazing."

"I am an alumni of this program [as well]," said Assistant coach of the Senior team, Travis Wood. "It's been crazy to see the evolution of it... it's more of a brotherhood."

Last week, Matt Kaulig and 3News anchor Jay Crawford had the opportunity to check out the team in person, and in action -and even play a little ball.

Spending any time at all here, it’s very clear; this is an experience that's about much more than baseball.

"It's not just a team for me or most of the guys here," player Juan Figueroa told Jay. "You know, people come in and on and just think it's just another baseball team that, you know, you can just play against. But RBI is more of a family to me than just a team."

The Power of Inspiration, meeting the power of teamwork, to create opportunities to chase a dream, create lasting memories and lifelong lessons.

"It makes me feel good. It makes me proud," said Collins. "It makes me grateful to be able to impact the lives. Not just, again, baseball as a sport, but we want to use this as maybe a tool to give them a better life. Even after they play."

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