On a snowy Denver Thursday I ventured down to Coors Field to meet with club Historian and Administrator of the Rockies RBI League, Mr. Paul Parker. We spoke on all things from Sabermetrics or propeller heads as LaTroy Hawkins calls it, to Larry Walker‘s All-Star break interview on why he was still hitting around .400 at the break. The main topic however, was the Rockies engagement in the RBI (reviving baseball in inner cities). With so much negativity this off-season surrounding Little League Baseball in light of the Jackie Robinson West issue, I think we need to focus on the efforts Major League Baseball and the Colorado Rockies are doing in helping inner city families afford to let their children play ball. Since their inception in 1993 the Rockies have been a huge supporter of youth baseball in the Denver community. Whether it’s through the RBI program, Field of Dreams, or other such programs like the Rockies Rookies, the Rockies have left a lasting impression on my life and so many others.
— MLBRBI (@MLBRBI) March 6, 2015
John Young will never be known for his playing career, but for his contributions after his playing days. After a cup of coffee in the bigs (no seriously he played in two games), Young founded RBI in 1989. Young felt that the inner city kids were losing interest in baseball in favor of other sports. The original RBI league featured 12 teams of 180 thirteen to fourteen year olds, with the help of prominent African-American ball players, Darryl Strawberry and Eric Davis. MLB was so impressed with the program they took over operations in 1991. Today there are over 300 RBI teams world-wide. Nearly every major league team runs their own RBI program or are loosely affiliated with the program , except the Astros, they field theirs as a big league club. There are two components to the RBI league, regional and local. The reason RBI was started was to provide thirteen to eighteen year old boys and girls in under privileged or at risks back grounds the opportunity to play baseball or softball at no cost to their families. These days, the cost to play on a traveling team ranges from $1000-$3000 a season. Everything is provided for the kids, from jerseys, game balls, umpires, hats, protective gear, to sunflower seeds
I always had an interest in baseball at a young age. Whether it was going to my dad’s games or watching the Denver Zephyrs, baseball was my thing. When Rockies came to Denver I was seven years old and the youth baseball opportunities exploded, due to the great efforts of the Rockies. Since 1993 the Rockies have been one of the most active teams in the RBI program. Currently there are three leagues that consist of thirteen teams each, a junior baseball league, a senior baseball league, and a softball league. The main demographic of these teams reside in the Denver Public Schools, but they range from Aurora, Commerce City, Lakewood, and Thornton. Most games are held at the High Schools of the participating teams. The entire program is funded through various grants, leaving no cost to the kids. While other teams focus on regional RBI teams, the Rockies shift their attention 100% to funding local teams. This leaves a better allocation to the teams, rather than setting aside a big chunk of money to send a team out-of-state to play. The leagues run from late May to mid July. With girls softball starting in September, this is a perfect warm-up to their season. The Rockies front office isn’t alone in their efforts to RBI, players current and past have been instrumental to Denver youth baseball. In 2013 Thomas Harding reported a huge donation by Rockies ace Jorge De La Rosa. Jorge funded the entire cost for 25 baseball teams and 12 softball teams. This donation covered uniforms, umpire fees, equipment, and coaching stipends. When asked why De La Rosa was so generous he simply stated, “The team asked me if I could help them and I said yes. It’s the only way I can pay [the fans] back for all the support they gave me throughout my career. It’s fun to help them. They did a great job all season. That’s the only way we can back them back for what they’ve always done for us”. It’s easy to see why the people of Denver support their Rockies through win or loss, with hearts like that it makes it tough not to.
The first General Manager, Bob Gebhard was a pioneer in many ways for Rockies baseball. Not only did he bring some of the first stars to Denver, he set the strong bond between player and community. Starting in 1995, Gebhard set up the Field of Dreams program. No “Shoeless” Joe Jackson didn’t appear in LoDo to assist the Rockies. This involved Gebhard asking the players to contribute discretionary charitable monies straight from their contracts. These funds went directly to building new fields or refurbishing existing fields along the front range. This effort was matched by the McCormick foundation, who partnered with the Rockies in building these fields. The donating player had the honor of the field being named after himself or naming the field after someone else. Starting in 1995, six to eight fields per year were being built. Some former Rockies like Larry Walker and Dante Bichette have multiple fields in their name. Gebhard resigned in 1999 and the focus of the McCormick foundation changed to at risk familes, causing the rate at which fields were built to be greatly diminished. The Rockies still receive twenty to fifty inquires regarding fields a year, in which the Rockies refer people to the Baseball Tomorrow fund. Baseball Tomorrow has become the field of dreams that spans nationwide in field assistance. In regards to existing fields built by the Rockies, “Shoeless” doesn’t help maintain those either. The community or organization receiving the field is accountable with the upkeep of the ball field. On occasion Paul Parker will make the rounds and make sure proper upkeep is being maintained. As of 2009 there were 57 existing fields that were a part of the Field of Dreams program. The crown jewel of the Field of Dreams program is All-Star park in Lakewood. The park was donated before the 1998 All-Star game at Coors Field by the Rockies and the Gold Crown Foundation. It’s made to be a miniature replica of Coors field. It includes a clock tower and brickwork, everything Coors has minus the Rockie dogs. Some of the more notable fields are the Aaron Cook field in Windsor, which was donated by the pitcher after the baseball complex was destroyed in a 2008 tornado. Another being the Andres Galarraga field at Owens Boys and Girls Club of Metro Denver. The Rockies have helped with the upkeep on this field, along with current players holding annual clinics. Paul Parker stated that a full list of these fields reside in the inner workings of the stadium along the left field foul line. I don’t remember many youth fields and their condition before the Rockies, but two stand out in my mind. Ruby Hill and the City Park fields stick out due to their poor upkeep. These fields were never a part of the Field of Dreams program. I can’t help but wonder if the majority of Denver youth fields would look like this if it weren’t for the Rockies involvement in the community.
As my Dad mentioned in my piece about a father’s baseball experience, he said it’s not about winning or losing, it’s about enjoying the game with the ones you love. He’s right, and thanks to the Rockies baseball wasn’t just another thing I did in the summer to pass the time. For me and many others my age, baseball is my greatest romance with the Rockies being our biggest crush. Thank you Rockies for making sure baseball mattered to me.