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Saturday, November 27, 2021

Baseball offers hope

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Just a year ago graffiti covered the dugout, overgrown weeds towered the field, and baselines and bases vanished in the gravel. The baseball field known as Forest Manor Park had slowly disappeared, leaving only memories.

For seven years the park was abandoned, but Play Ball Indiana stepped in to save not only a baseball diamond, but a community.

Through Reviving Baseball in Inner Cities (RBI) Play Ball Indiana is reviving the field. Opening day is May 4 at 10 a.m. Gov. Mike Pence will throw the opening pitch.

Play Ball Indiana has a long history of helping develop youth baseball and softball in the Indianapolis metro area. Last year, Indy Parks granted permission to Play Ball Indiana to use Forest Manor Park for the RBI program. Located just east of 21st Street and Sherman Drive, the park used to be home of the Community Little League and Indy Bats travel baseball club.

RBI is a not for profit organization with fields in Forest Manor Park and Rhodius Park. Forest Manor Park is the home for RBI, and a model park they hope to duplicate future fields from. For youngsters ages 5 to18, RBI is their second home. It offers boys and girls softball summer league, including Jr. RBI Baseball and Softball and more.

“I grew up in the inner city, so I know what it’s like. It’s a struggle. RBI offers a better community through baseball. These kids have something to look forward to,” said RBI baseball coordinator Eric James.

The RBI Junior Team took second place at the East Regionals, the Senior Division Team finished 1-2, and five Indy Section winners advanced to Chicago in the Aquafina Hit and Run Competition. They also finished 5-0 last year at a tournament in Arizona.

RBI is making strides and teaching more than baseball. The program also focuses on building good character, responsible behavior, healthy competition and teamwork, honesty, fairness and integrity. RBI also helps prepare their athletes for college.

Brandon Louden works for Bright House Network and is assistant park manager for RBI. He’s seen the conditions these kids come from and says many live in poverty. According to Louden he is a walking spokesperson and encourages families to get their kids involved.

“It’s rewarding when I see kids come in with families I’ve spoken with. I see so many kids in this area hanging out doing nothing. I enjoy asking, ‘Hey you want to play baseball?’’’ said Louden.

Louden says the No.1 excuse he hears from kids are I can’t afford to play. Luckily RBI offers sponsorships and programs to help kids without the finances. To participate, there is a $25 fee, which includes a uniform, hat, gloves and other equipment.

James said because Indianapolis doesn’t have a major league team, funds are limited to support RBI programs. The organization strives to find people, businesses and organizations that are willing to invest in the kids and RBI. Sponsors include Deloitte and Lids who raise thousands of dollars, and volunteer.

Donations are critical to this program’s survival. They are not only impacting the kids but also the community. The coaches, volunteers, managers and administrators buy into the philosophy of restoring baseball in the inner cities.

Forest Manor Park is making progress, but still has a long way to go.

“We are on a shoestring budget. We need the help of the community,” James said. “We want to bring the fun in baseball back, the bubble gum cards, pick-up games, hot dogs and all. Most importantly, we want to keep kids off the street and give them a future.”

To sponsor a child, donate, or for more information about RBI call (317) 769-2560 or visit rbiforestmanor.net. Like them on facebook too, at facebook.com/rbiindianapolis.

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