ST. LOUIS -- Seven miles from where Game 3 of the World Series was about to be played Saturday night, Dan Dixon, an area scout in Southern California for the Major League Scouting Bureau, stood out in left field on the Cool Papa Bell Baseball Field at the Mathews-Dickey Boys & Girls Club. Dixon began speaking to 35 hopeful boys and young men, each of whom had visions of grandeur.
They want to be Major League Baseball players.
He just wanted to be able to write at least one scouting report on a kid worth tracking.
"You're going to get a chance to show us what you can do," Dixon told them, standing next to a handful of area scouts who held timing devices and clipboards. "We're grading you guys against Major League standards, so keep that in mind. They average a 6.9 60."
So began the first-ever Reviving Baseball in Inner Cities (RBI) Scouting Showcase, drawing aspiring talent locally and from across the RBI program. Depending on their positions, prospects ran the 60-yard dash, took 45 minutes of batting practice, took infield, including slow rollers, tested their arm strength and accuracy in the outfield, and measured their velocity on the mound.
"We really had some discussion internally about what sort of opportunities we could provide to the higher-end RBI players to pursue a college scholarship or maybe even chase the dream of being a professional player," said David James, MLB's RBI executive director. "Through the efforts of the Commissioner's Diversity Task Force, we thought that our biggest stage, the World Series, would be a great opportunity to get some of these RBI kids in front of the Scouting Bureau, potentially other colleges, and see what they are able to do."
That Showcase immediately followed a "Wanna Play?" youth clinic that drew local and regional participants, with former Cardinals Kerry Robinson and Cliff Politte among those teaching skills. MLB Network analyst Harold Reynolds, MLB vice president of community affairs Tom Brasuell and Sharon Robinson, daughter of Jackie Robinson, were among those who spoke to participants in the morning. Baseball's reach on this morning went far beyond the walls of Busch Stadium.
The back-to-back event over four hours at 54-year-old Mathews-Dickey, near an underserved section of St. Louis, was part of MLB's fifth annual World Series community initiative program for Games 1-4, each game dedicated to different themes for a lasting legacy.
As the backdrop to Game 3, MLB highlighted its commitment to youth from underserved communities through events involving RBI, the importance of education through the Breaking Barriers program, and celebrating community service through the Busch Stadium pregame presentation of the prestigious Robert Clemente Award presented by Chevrolet.
Game 4 on Sunday will look to inspire fans worldwide to join MLB and Stand Up To Cancer (SU2C) in advancing the fight against cancer. In Boston, Game 1 was dedicated to Welcome Back Veterans and Game 2 focused on two long-time MLB charitable partners in Boys & Girls Clubs and Habitat for Humanity, as well as the Baseball Tomorrow Fund.
"I know a lot of this is PR, but we're hoping to find a ballplayer out here," Dixon said. "We've got some notes on some of these kids, there are supposed to be some good runners, and if we can get a good arm, hopefully we can write a report on one of these kids in this area.
"We're looking for velocity, we're looking for competitors, growth projection, we want to see guys who can just make it look easy. We're hoping there could be a hitter out here. ... Weather cooperated, and then we get to stick around and go to the World Series game tonight, so that's a perk for us."
Dixon said he hopes it will grow into a larger annual World Series event.
"We're trying to give these kids an opportunity to get them off the street and give them an opportunity to play baseball," Dixon said. "They can go play other sports, but we're introducing baseball to them, and hopefully these kids can come out and give it a shot. Some of these kids, all of a sudden they're going to like it, then they'll stick around and play in the high-school programs, go off to college, and, with any luck, some of them will make it to the pro ranks."
One such hopeful is Sadiq Burkholder, 19, a left-hander from Williamsport, Pa. He has played the last five years with the Harrisburg RBI program, leading his team to the RBI World Series title this year, and MLB flew him here to give scouts a look at his talent.
"It's an amazing feeling," he said. "Being out here in front of the scouts, going to the Gala last night and seeing all the big representatives of MLB, and being flown out here and staying at a great hotel, being driven around by VIP services, it's an amazing experience"
Reynolds told the "Wanna Play?" kids that there are millions of ballplayers in America, and a difference maker is the character of a person. He told them to choose friends wisely and work on their grades, to make scouts and coaches take notice.
"Don't stop your opportunity before you even get out the door," he said.
Once the site of a city trash dump, the first site of the RBI Scouting Showcase was tied to some authentic baseball history. James "Cool Papa Bell," the Negro Leagues legend and Hall of Famer, was a good friend of Martin L. Mathews, co-founder of this Boys & Girls Club. The kids were made aware of Bell's legacy.
"He served some time with the organization in helping things out and giving good advice to children," Tom Sullivan, vice president of Mathews-Dickey, said of Bell. "It was a good fit for us to name the stadium after Cool Papa Bell. He lived three miles from here when he was alive, and we continued his legacy."
Teen Cards fan honored for Breaking Barriers essay
ST. LOUIS -- Jennifer Wayland attended Game 3 of the World Series on Saturday night at Busch Stadium along with her parents, Denise and Jeff, and her younger sister Lindsey.
Their mere presence was a lesson in courage.
Her introduction to a sellout crowd for Red Sox vs. Cardinals was the exclamation point.
Jennifer Wayland is a sophomore at nearby Parkway Central High School, and she just turned 16 this month. Like too many other teenage girls, she used to lie to her parents and cover up her obsession with counting calories and exercising excessively. Body image was overemphasized.
Then she broke through a barrier by mustering the courage to tell her mom and dad the truth and ask for help. She learned to love herself. The second step was sharing her own story with others and winning the grand prize from among 18,700 entries in the Breaking Barriers national essay contest run by Major League Baseball and Scholastic.
"The inspiration was the topic of the paper is supposed to be a barrier that you overcame, and that was the one that stuck out to me in my life, the one I had dealt with the past few years," Wayland said, watching the Cardinals take batting practice before Game 3. "That was kind of where the inspiration came from, and I felt like I actually had a good point to make about that. Now having won it, I just feel really grateful and really lucky, because I didn't expect to win at all.
"It started out as I just kind of wrote it to write it, and I didn't know I was going to enter it. I was going to enter something else in the contest. And then getting it out on paper, I was like, 'You know, this isn't so bad. It's kind of like in my past. I feel a lot better about sharing it now.' I felt like I was ready to do that."
As the backdrop to Game 3, MLB highlighted its commitment to youth from underserved communities all day long through community events involving Reviving Baseball in Inner Cities (RBI) and the importance of education through the "Breaking Barriers: In Sports, In Life" program, and celebrated community service through the Busch Stadium pregame presentation of the prestigious Roberto Clemente Award presented by Chevrolet to Cardinals right fielder Carlos Beltran.
Game 4 on Sunday will look to inspire fans worldwide to join MLB and Stand Up To Cancer in advancing the fight against cancer. In Boston, Game 1 was dedicated to Welcome Back Veterans and Game 2 focused on two longtime MLB charitable partners in Boys & Girls Clubs and Habitat for Humanity, as well as the Baseball Tomorrow Fund.
The Breaking Barriers essay contest is based on the nine values demonstrated by the great Jackie Robinson: determination, commitment, persistence, integrity, justice, courage, teamwork, citizenship and excellence. Entrants had to write about at least one of those values, and Wayland's essay was called "Just a Number."
She was one of two grand prize winners, along with Luke Lunday of West Point, N.Y., and her prize was going to the World Series. She knew it was coming all season, and it just so happened that she and her family were able to watch their favorite team for the occasion.
In the process, Wayland became an inspirational figure and a symbol of hope for so many others who are or were in her shoes.
"I'd already met Jennifer and been to her school," said Sharon Robinson, Jackie's daughter and the MLB educator who has taken "Breaking Barriers" to the masses over the years. "We brought her to a Cardinals event before a regular-season game, but this is another level. I wanted her to be able to travel, but how cool is it to be at your home team and root them on for a win?"
"I'm really happy that it's my home team," Wayland said. "That's great."
It was a full day Saturday for Robinson. Earlier in the morning, she spoke to hundreds of kids gathered for the RBI "Wanna Play?" youth clinic at Mathews-Dickey Boys & Girls Club.
"We really want them to have fun playing baseball and enjoy the sport, learn skills to be confident in the game, but equally as important is to learn to read and write, and graduate from high school, go on to college and get jobs," Robinson said. "So our message was that it's not just about the game of baseball, it's about who you are as a person. We want you to build strong character as well as prepare yourself for whatever life is presented to you, because you may not all become pro baseball players, so we want you to be prepared for a life with a career that lets you support your family."
Then Robinson was over at the downtown public library, reading her book "Jackie Robinson: American Hero" to a group of young children. MLB supplied all of them with a copy of the book, and Robinson signed each after the reading. She was floored by their impressive level of interest and involvement. But then it was a "sad" moment at the end of that event that she carried with her over to the ballpark, telling the story of two girls who are learning about Jackie Robinson.
"It was very sad at the end, because my last two kids were little girls who came up to have their books signed. I said, 'Did you have fun?' One of them said, 'I just got here.' I said, 'OK. Do you know what the book is about?' She goes, 'No.' Then the other girl said, 'It's about Jackie Robinson.' And the other one says, 'Yeah, I know that but I couldn't think of his name.'
"I said, 'Oh, do you have a library -- a place where you can keep your books?' She said, 'Yes, I have four books.' So I was like, great. I signed their books. And when they left, the librarian explained to me that these two kids were homeless, and they'd come over from the shelter. They would use the library as kind of a place for them to stay, and they would come because the library was across from the shelter. I had no idea.
"It made World Series day all the more special."