MINNEAPOLIS -- When Major League Baseball created its Reviving Baseball in Inner Cities program in 1989, there were approximately 100 participants.
More than twice that many young baseball players who will participate in the 20th annual RBI World Series were in attendance at Target Field on Tuesday for Commissioner Allan H. "Bud" Selig's keynote speech at the event's welcome luncheon. The program now boasts more than 200,000 participants worldwide.
"You've all come a long way to be here," Selig said. "And everyone in Major League Baseball appreciates your enthusiasm, passion for the game of baseball, and commitment to the RBI program."
The RBI World Series is a Major League Baseball youth initiative designed to give young people from underserved and diverse areas the opportunity to play baseball, encourage academic success and teach the value of teamwork.
Selig, whose 78th birthday was on Monday and was celebrated at the luncheon, spoke to the assembled players -- who represented 14 teams from all over the United States as well as two clubs from the Dominican Republic and Venezuela -- about the current big leaguers who also participated in the RBI program, including CC Sabathia, Justin Upton, Carl Crawford, and James Loney.
Furthermore, 15 RBI alumni were selected in the June First-Year Player Draft.
"Regardless of where you come from, what your background is or what your experiences are, you can accomplish great things in life if you set goals, stay focused, and work hard -- both on and off the field," Selig said.
Besides the aforementioned current stars of the game, Selig was joined by some of baseball's biggest stars of yesteryear. Hall of Famers Bert Blyleven, Rod Carew, Paul Molitor, and former Twins great Tony Oliva were all in attendance, providing their own motivational words.
"Give it all you've got," Blyleven said. "This is not the end of the world. It's the game of baseball. But have fun doing it, do the best you can. Baseball is like life -- we have so many ups and downs. Even though we're Hall of Famers, we had a lot of barriers, too. You can't be afraid to fail. With failure comes success, and that's hard work."
The players will try to do exactly that as play begins on Thursday, with a total of 12 games between the Juniors (boys ages 13-15) and Seniors (boys ages 16-18) divisions taking place throughout the Minneapolis-St. Paul Area. Play will continue with 12 more games each day on Friday and Saturday before concluding with championship games for both divisions on Sunday at Target Field. Softball will take center stage next week, with eight teams of girls ages 19 and under vying for the 18th RBI Softball Championship.
Participants will also serve the community on Wednesday, in a new initiative from the RBI event. Players, coaches, and others will pack food for Kids Against Hunger, a food-aid organization designed to feed children in the United States as well as throughout the world. They will also assist in cleaning, landscaping, and renovating three Boys & Girls Clubs in the Twin Cities area.
"These activities are significant because they're focused on giving back to the community -- a characteristic we try to reinforce with all the kids who participate in the RBI program," said Tim Brosnan, MLB executive vice president of business.
As Tuesday's luncheon concluded, one got the sense that the boys were somewhat in awe of the Commissioner and the legends surrounding them. It's not every day that Blyleven shows you his World Series ring and gives you an autograph, after all.
But it was the Commissioner himself who seemed humbled.
"Baseball is a social institution with enormous social responsibilities," Selig said. "It's a day like this that makes me proud to be Commissioner of baseball."
Jordan Garretson is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.