Reviving Baseball in Inner Cities: More Than Sports

Reviving Baseball in Inner Cities (RBI) is a Major League Baseball (MLB) initiative with the mission to increase urban and inner city youth participation in baseball and softball by re-introducing, reviving and rebuilding America’s pastime in underserved, inner-city communities. Since 1989, RBI has grown from a local program for boys in South Central Los Angeles to an international campaign encompassing more than 200 cities with as many as 200,000 boys and girls participating each year.

How RBI Makes a Difference

As an associate professor within CEHD’s (College of Education and Human Development) School of Kinesiology, I’ve always been interested and involved in sports. In 2007, I was invited to help the Minnesota Twins with a two-year evaluation of their RBI program where we conducted interviews and surveyed parents, players, coaches, parks and recreation staff and league administrators about how well the program was delivered and what the youth were getting out of participating. It’s one of the first initiatives where a professional sports team examined their social impact.

In 2012, fellow School of Kinesiology colleague Dr. Maureen Weiss and I were invited to conduct an evaluation at MLB’s RBI Institute. Through focus groups with league administrators, we identified challenges in delivering RBI leagues.

The MLB’s RBI Institute provides league administrators professional development in the marketing, promotion and operations of a local RBI league. I used the 2012 Institute evaluation findings to assist in developing content for this year’s 2013 Institute in Orlando, FL (held March 21-24). Many RBI league administrators are from diverse backgrounds and the Institute provides an opportunity for these adults to enhance their knowledge and administrative skills that can assist in improving the quality of delivery for their youth sports programs.

MLB clubs have drafted more than 170 RBI participants, including 5 players selected in 2011. While not all RBI players make it to the big leagues, there are still many life skills learned through playing.

Here are 5 benefits inner city youth experience from participating in baseball and softball, and youth sports in general:

  1. Academic: Young athletes are more likely to graduate from high school and go to college. RBI encourages academic participation and achievement and helps to increase the number of talented athletes prepared to play in college and beyond.
  2. Diversity: The program promotes greater inclusion of minorities into the mainstream of the game. During the RBI World Series tournament, youth also develop friendships with kids from all over the U.S. and the Caribbean. There is more diversity in the program than ever before, with 40% African American and 29% Latino/Hispanic participants as of 2013.
  3. Social: RBI teaches kids the value of teamwork and provides a base for making new friends.
  4. Health: Young athletes are more likely to be active and physically fit.
  5. Pride and Connection: When teams do well within their local league, kids feel a sense of accomplishment. And if an All-Star team qualifies for Regionals and/or the World Series, the players wear the jersey of their home MLB team. So Twin Cities participants would wear Minnesota Twins jerseys, which give them a sense of pride and responsibility to represent the team in an appropriate way. This is a great learning experience for young people.

RBI in the Twin Cities has been around since 1994 and about 4,000 male and female participants currently play baseball and softball.

For many young kids, the RBI program provides an opportunity to participate in baseball and softball that they wouldn’t otherwise due to a variety of reasons, including costs and cut-backs of these sports in high schools. Many schools can only support one varsity team and have discontinued JV programs, so it’s a chance for kids of all skill levels to participate in a great sport. If you’d like more information about RBI, visit or the Minnesota Twins Community.

Lisa Kihl

About the Author

Lisa Kihl, Ph.D.

  • Associate Professor, Sports Management
  • School of Kinesiology
  • College of Education and Human Development (CEHD)
  • University of Minnesota

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