Every year on April 15, the entire baseball community recognizes the man who broke the sport’s color barrier back in 1947: Jackie Robinson. Year after year we are reminded of what Robinson did not only for baseball but for the entire country and it is important to continue to share his story for our younger generation who may not know who Robinson was as a ballplayer and a person.
Since its inception in 1989, Reviving Baseball in Inner Cities (RBI) has grown from a local program for boys in South Central Los Angeles to an international campaign encompassing more than 200 cities and as many as 150,000 male and female participants per year. John Young, a former Major League Baseball player and scout, developed the concept of RBI to provide disadvantaged youth an opportunity to learn and enjoy the game of baseball.
Along with the Los Angeles Dodgers Foundation (LADF) RBI Program, both use the sport as a vehicle to provide critical resources and services to communities who are experiencing social injustices, something Robinson endured throughout his entire life and career.
Additionally, the programs are incentives to the local youth as a way to increase participation in the sport and use sports participation as an engagement tool to increase access to education, literacy, health, wellness, and recreational resources.
On Thursday, April 15, in partnership with the City of Compton, Kershaw’s Challenge and the MLB-MLBPA Youth Development Foundation (MLB-MLBPA), the LADF unveiled the Phase One (of a three-phase process) completion of a multi-million-dollar Dodgers Dreamfields complex at Gonzales Park in Compton.
The ceremony highlighted this year’s return to youth sports after the Covid-19 quarantine and emphasized the necessity of continued opportunities and locations for Black and brown communities to have a place to play. CEO of LADF, Nichol Whiteman shared her joy with the media about the unveiling of the 52nd, 53rd and 54th Dodgers Dreamfields and emphasized the importance of giving back to the community of Compton on the special day honoring Jackie Robinson.
“We are giving our youth revitalized spaces and ensuring that they have a sense of community pride around the corner from their homes and in their neighborhoods,” Whiteman said. “We are so proud that we have been able to take care of irrigation, fencing, grandstands, sod and more to make these fields newly designed, to make them safe and to make them quality spaces like those that you would see in a high-income community.”
In addition to the three fields at Gonzales Park that will support youth baseball and softball, from T-ball to college athletics, Clayton Kershaw and his foundation Kershaw’s Challenge will also develop the Kershaw’s Challenge Training and Fitness Zone. The space will feature two batting cages, two bullpens, a practice infield, and outdoor fitness equipment. In a prerecorded message, Kershaw spoke about how the upgrades will positively impact the youth in the Compton community.
“There were a lot of systematic inequities in play and many young people turned to gangs and violence, threatening what was once a safe space,” Kershaw said. “With these hurdles in mind, Ellen and I are honored to help make a difference because we understand the role that recreation plays in the lives of young people.”
Executive Director of MLB and MLBPA Youth Development Foundation Jean Lee Batrus shared the overall mission of the MLB-MLBPA program in an effort to expand access and reduce barriers for underserved youth and communities and spoke about the importance of continuing what Jackie and Rachel Robinson have taught us about how to act both on and off the field.
“This was the perfect project to partner with,” Batrus said. “It was local and close to our Compton academy and at a time in the pandemic, and even before the pandemic, this is a community that has so much energy. I’m just awestruck about his legacy and so much that we can learn from Jackie, and Rachel as well, and what their family has taught us.”
Madison Shaquette, a player in the Dodgers RBI program, talked about her excitement for the newly renovated fields and the transformation of the entire park itself.
“I’m mostly excited to get my friends and family out here and to be able to work on our skills and agility to get better for the next season,” Shaquette said. “The field is built really well so I’m excited to actually be able to run around on a diamond versus just a grassy area. It should be a lot of fun once we get out here.”
Featured Image: Ayo Robinson, the granddaughter of baseball icon Jackie Robinson, stands under a large portrait of the Hall of Famer at Gonzales Park in Compton, California. Gonzales Park is the place where a Dodgers Dreamfields complex is located. Ms. Robinson attended and spoke at a ceremony announcing the completion of Phase One of the Dodgers Dreamfields, which includes a softball field named in honor of Rachel Robinson, Jackie’s wife. Photo credit: Dennis J. Freeman/News4usonline