It took 25 years for Major League Baseball’s youth program to finally reach New Orleans.
It took only one season for the local entry to earn a spot in the Reviving Baseball in Inner Cities program to earn a berth in the RBI Junior Division (ages 15-under) World Series.
The eight-team tournament begins Monday in Minneapolis, with the championship game set for Thursday at Target Field, home of the Minnesota Twins.
New Orleans will meet Boys & Girls Club of Venice (Calif.) on Monday and play pool games against Chicago Cubs RBI and RBI Santo Domingo on Tuesday.
The top two teams in each division advance to Wednesday’s semifinals.
Before play begins, the teams will have a workout on Sunday in front of Major League scouts.
“The best thing is the exposure,” Eric Soublet, of the New Orleans Recreational Development Commission, who directs the local RBI program, said of the eight-team tournament. “That’s why we’re happy to be affiliated with RBI.”
The partnership helps both parties: MLB teams get a chance to see talented young prospects who do not attend high schools with nationally renowned baseball teams, while the athletes gain access to resources they might not otherwise have playing for underfunded club and high school teams.
“A lot of these kids play with high schools where baseball is not the primary sport,” said NORDC coach Bernard Dyer.
The team reached the national stage by winning a regional tournament last month in Arlington, Texas.
That competition started with a 4-3 loss to Houston.
“We made a bunch of errors,” said Blair Joseph, a rising sophomore at Brother Martin.
“I think we were nervous.”
New Orleans left nine men on and after Houston scored three runs early, allowed just one run afterward.
That was a good omen. NORDC went on to win its remaining three games by a 27-4 margin, including two shutouts.
But everyone realizes more is at stake this week.
“I’ll be nervous,” Dyer said/. “We’ll lean on the older guys to settle everyone in.”
One of those older players is first baseman Tyler Reid, a rising junior at Edna Karr.
“We have the mentality like we’ve already been there,” Reid said.
Reid also pointed out that all of his teammates have either played together for other teams, or faced each other.
Six members of the 15-player team play baseball at Karr: Reid, Kerry Bruce, Corey Levy, Carnell Carter, Tyree Thompson and Alonzo Bowie.
Other team members are Erik Vinnett (Destrehan) Cristian Poche (Hayues), Claude Hayes, St. Augustine , Darrell Landry (St. Augustine) Myles Washington (John Curtis), Chase Henderson (East St. John) Easton Pineia (Carver) and Reid.
Eight participated on the same 12-under team, the New Orleans Monarchs, which Dyer coached as well as the St. Roch 15-under team which won the RBI City Championship.
Tyler Reid’s mother said the familiarity is obvious on the field.
“They have chemistry,” said Aenquinette Reid. “He knows where his teammate is going to be.”
Despite the quick success of the local program, the question remains about how long it took for it to take root in New Orleans. More than 200 other cities have RBI programs.
“We tried to start an RBI program about two years ago, but NORD was going through a transition,” said Dyer. “The wheels fell off.”
The New Orleans Recreational Department transitioned to the New Orleans Recreational Development Commission. The change lead to a financial restructuring and a drawn out, contentious search for a CEO.
With stability came renewed life for RBI in New Orleans along with glistening faciity - the renovated Wesley Barrow Stadium.
And now, the team can take it to the next level.
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