MLB partners with D.C. Grays to bring RBI program to town

It's Jackie Robinson Day, which means every player and every coach in the major leagues today is wearing a nameless No. 42 jersey. All sorts of other honors are planned to commemorate the 69th anniversary of Robinson breaking baseball's color barrier, and all of them will deservedly receive plenty of attention.

This annual occasion, though, also serves as a reminder that for all the progress baseball (and society as a whole) has made since April 15, 1947, there still is so much more progress that needs to be made.

Harper-42-Gray-Sidebar.jpgDusty Baker spoke yesterday about the fact he currently is one of only two African-American managers in the big leagues (along with the Dodgers' Dave Roberts). There's only one current African-American general manager (the Diamondbacks' Dave Stewart), with two others overseeing baseball operations departments (the White Sox's Ken Williams and the Marlins' Michael Hill).

Baker wishes those numbers were higher, and he of course makes a strong point. But the problem isn't simply in management positions. It's at the playing level as well, with African-Americans making up only 8 percent of all major leaguers on opening day rosters, according to USA Today research.

That's why some of the most important work being done right now is not at baseball's professional level, but at the sport's youth level. MLB's RBI (Reviving Baseball in Inner Cities) program has been working to promote the game to kids in underserved areas since 1989.

And yesterday, that group formed a new partnership with a local youth baseball organization.

D.C. Grays Baseball, a nonprofit organization devoted to promoting baseball in inner-city Washington, is now an official member of the RBI program. The Grays will have seven local teams playing in the RBI program this summer (five baseball, two softball), with home games played at the Washington Nationals Youth Baseball Academy.

The Grays also announced they are donating equipment and apparel to the baseball program at John Philip Sousa Middle School, which is located across the street from the Nationals' youth academy in Southeast Washington.

"When D.C. Grays Baseball was founded in 2012, our goal was to make the great game of baseball available and accessible to every kid in our community, regardless of ability to pay," Grays president and founder Michael Barbera said in a statement. "Now that we have revitalized the RBI program for D.C. and are helping the ballplayers at John Philip Sousa Middle School, we are fulfilling our mission to be 'ambassadors for baseball' in Washington, D.C."

It's just one more step to continue the work Robinson started 69 years ago when he took his position at Ebbets Field, with countless more that still need to be taken in the years to come.

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