The path to RBI Austin began in 2009 in the hearts and on the minds of Matt Price and Andy Harris. Both former college baseball players, that spring, Matt and Andy helped coach an understaffed Reagan High School baseball program and grew to love the underserved student-athletes of East Austin. With the school on the verge of closure and after hearing that many of their players had no plans to play in the summer, Matt and Andy created the East Austin Blazers, an 18 & under summer team.
This inaugural Blazers team included players from Reagan and Eastside Memorial High Schools. With 15 players and a 20-game schedule, the Blazers played their home games at Roy Guerrero Park in East Austin. Matt, Andy, and six other former baseball players from the Austin Stone Community Church all pitched in to coach the team.
Throughout the summer, these coaches saw the Lord provide many opportunities to pour into these high school baseball players’ lives, both on and off the field. They grew closer to their players through car rides to games and practices, off the field activities like pool parties and team hangouts, and interactions on the baseball field and in the dugout. After several practices, the coaches shared their personal testimonies of how the gospel of Jesus Christ had forever changed their lives. Players and coaches alike loved being a part of the team, and they stayed connected through weekend practices that fall and winter.
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MLB’s Reviving Baseball in Inner Cities (RBI) program was soon to come on to the radar. Matt, Andy, and others felt the Lord leading them to reach younger age groups with the gospel through the game of baseball. They connected with Amanda Terry of the For the City Network (FTCN), who had previously worked for Major League Baseball and the Boston Red Sox. After hearing about RBI in Boston and learning about what Matt and Andy were doing in Austin, she began researching the RBI program and the process to become the official Austin affiliate. During this time, MLB was launching its national Jr. RBI program for 5-12 year-olds in 2010, which piqued Matt and Amanda’s interest in RBI even more.
The Blazers coaches continued helping out at Reagan and Eastside Memorial baseball practices. By May, Matt and Amanda had submitted their application for affiliation, and David James, MLB’s national director of RBI, had given them his approval. RBI Austin was officially created, and the Lord was about to come through in another huge way.
One major hurdle to bringing the RBI program to Austin was access to an adequate program facility. In February, FTCN Executive Director Justin Lopez received an email from a friend indicating that the MLB Groundskeepers were looking for a high school baseball field to renovate as a part of their annual National Sports Turf Conference & MLB Symposium being held in Austin that coming January. Justin proposed Reagan’s field as a candidate. After FTCN/RBI Austin submitted a “community plan” to upkeep the renovated facility and addressed questions around Reagan High School’s potential closure, MLB approved the field renovation. RBI Austin worked alongside Houston Astros Head Groundskeeper,Dan Bergstrom on the eight-month, $150,000 field renovation, which was completed in January 2011 with a ribbon-cutting ceremony attended by many local celebrities. Now RBI Austin had a venue to host year-round clinics, summer leagues, and practices. After improved academic scores, the State of Texas also allowed Reagan High School to remain open. The Lord was moving in East Austin.
Reagan High School Baseball Field
Meanwhile, the 2010 Blazers summer team grew to a 25-man roster with ten coaches, including five former NCAA baseball players. Non-baseball activities expanded to bowling nights, attending professional/college games, and even camping trips, allowing for great opportunities for relationship building and player development. Players and coaches also took part in a weekly team dinner/Bible study throughout the 2010 – 2011 school year, where they talked baseball and walked through the book of John in the Bible, which proved an exciting avenue for the Lord to make disciples of players.
2011 (RBI Austin’s first year)
RBI Austin’s first official clinic took place on January 30th and included 40 local high school players. The clinic featured two current and three former professional players as instructors: Taylor Rodgers (San Francisco Giants), Donnie Joseph (Cincinnati Reds), Jon Switzer (Tampa Bay Rays, New York Mets – retired), Justin Simmons (University of Texas, Los Angeles Dodgers – retired), Curtis Thigpen (University of Texas, Toronto Blue Jays – retired).
In the spring, six RBI Austin coaches assisted the baseball teams at Reagan and Eastside Memorial High Schools.
April 16th marked RBI Austin’s first Jr. RBI clinic with over 80 kids in attendance, ranging from 5 to 12 years old.
On May 22nd, RBI Austin hosted a MLB Players Alumni Association (MLBPAA) clinic in which eight former big leaguers coached 135 kids ages 5-16 on the fundamentals of the game.
That summer, RBI Austin launched its T-Ball league with four teams playing games on Saturdays and practicing one night per week. The T-Ball league drew kids from 10 East Austin elementary schools and was staffed by 25 faithful volunteers.
RBI Austin’s 2011 high school summer league included five teams: the East Austin Blazers Junior and Senior teams, the Lanier HS JV and Varsity teams, and the LBJ HS team. Through these teams, RBI Austin served 72 high school players from eight Austin-area high schools: Reagan, Eastside Memorial, Lanier, Travis, Bowie, McCallum, Austin, and Regents.
In each of the RBI summer teams, volunteers were encouraged to build and maintain mentor relationships with the players throughout the school year, a core principle of the organization’s mission.
Through the end of 2011, the number of players involved grew from 22 in 2010 to 118 in 2011, led by 102 volunteers.
The Lord continued to use the game of baseball to seek restoration in East Austin, RBI Austin’s mission to engage and develop inner-city Austin youth athletically, academically, and spiritually, empowering them to lead the transformation of their communities was only just beginning!
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As word spread about RBI Austin, the number of players, coaches, and volunteers continued to grow. In 2012, 252 players on 19 teams participated in RBI Austin programs. Volunteers made this possible, with 154 individuals committed to serving and leading in RBI Austin’s mission.
The Jr. RBI program expanded to include both T-Ball and Coach Pitch divisions for children ages 4-9. Nine clinics were held and partnerships were established with local schools and little leagues.
The RBI High School division competed in its first Regional Tournament in Arlington, with the goal of someday reaching MLB’s RBI World Series. Though they didn’t advance this year, it was a great experience for the players and coaches.
Off the field, an afterschool program was launched at Oak Springs Elementary – a school in East Austin where 73% of the children are fatherless. This would mark the start of the organization’s official partnership with the school. In addition, over 30 high school players participated in the Player Development Program where they were mentored and taught the Bible throughout the year.
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This year saw continued, steady growth and many “firsts”. Players expanded to 377 kids on 30 teams led by 182 volunteers. Jr. RBI added Kid Pitch and Softball divisions, marking the first girls-only teams in program history.
The Round Rock Express – now a Triple-A affiliate of the Texas Rangers – s
pearheaded the inaugural “Triple-A For A Day”,
where the Express staff brings their fun, game day experience to the Jr. RBI Championship games. This family-friendly event quickly became one of the highlights of the summer.
Each year MLB grants ten $20,000 scholarships to RBI alumni across the country. Arturo Garcia, a four-year RBI Austin participant and graduate of Reagan HS, was awarded one of these coveted national scholarships, enabling him to attend Texas A&M to pursue an engineering degree. Arturo is one of many RBI alumni who have been the first in their family to graduate high school and pursue a higher education. He continues to represent RBI Austin well, coming back to intern and coach with the organization and dreams to move back after college graduation and become a leader in the community he grew up in.
After continued growth in the Player Development Program, three high school players were baptized by their coaches in 2013. This proclamation of faith in Jesus Christ exemplified the heartbeat and prayer behind RBI Austin’s mission.
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Reaching numbers that had only been a distant dream less than five years prior, 2014 brought 561 kids on 40 teams led by 223 volunteers.
The 15 & Under Junior All-Star Team garnered RBI Austin’s first berth to the RBI World Series in Grapevine, TX, where they faced RBI teams from around the world. While they came up short of the championship, this great honor was a once-in-a-lifetime experience for the players, coaches, and families.
Also, in conjunction with MLB’s All-Star Weekend in July, an RBI Austin 12 & Under Girls Softball team made an appearance at the Jr. RBI Classic in Minnesota. Like the RBI World Series, this experience was one to remember, highlighted by the first time on an airplane for many, an appearance at MLB’s Fan Fest and Home Run Derby, and the opportunity to meet and play against other RBI participants from around the country.
After seeing the great need for long-term relationships for children in East Austin, RBIMentoring launched in 2014. This eight-year commitment beginning with an East Austin fourth grader and lasting until they graduate high school, kicked off in April, and by the end of the year, 21 mentors were matched with mentees. Focused at Oak Springs Elementary, the prayer is that these gospel-centered mentor relationships will be a means to long-term transformation in the East Austin community.
With the fast-growing number of players and families involved in RBI Austin, the need for more and more playing fields was made very clear.
Mabson Field was one of RBI Austin’s primary fields. Located a few blocks from Oak Springs Elementary, Mabson Field is in the heart of East Austin. By the grace of God, $300,000 in grants were awarded to renovate Mabson Field, turning it into an AstroTurf gem. Funding came from. In partnership with MLB’s Baseball Tomorrow Fund, the Nolan Ryan Foundation, the Round Rock Express, AstroTurf, and local Grammy Award-winning band Reckless Kelly, this state-of-the-art facility has become the crown jewel of RBI Austin games, clinics, and events, including the annual Triple-A For A Day festivities. Now the pride of the community, Mabson Field is a focal point and a tangible display of the transformation occurring in this community.
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By 2015, 14 fields were being used in East Austin through partnerships with the City of Austin, local little leagues, and area schools.
The 2015 Summer League was the largest yet with 656 boys and girls ages 4-18 playing on 47 teams led by 192 volunteers. Lots of baseball and softball, lots of mentoring, lots of relationships.
As each year passes and more kids, families, and volunteers become a part of the RBI Austin family, the prayer remains the same: May the Lord continue to be glorified by the work that He is doing through RBI Austin.
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