(CBS) — When the Cubs RBI Junior All Star Team learned they’d been offered an all-expenses paid trip to meet big league athletes in Arizona, it’s safe to say they were a little excited.
“Anthony Rizzo appeared via Skype and told them they’d be coming to Mesa, taking part in spring training and meeting the team,” said RBI coach Ernest Radcliffe. “The kids were excited. They were elated, jumping for joy.”
Radcliffe has been coaching young athletes with the Cubs’ Reviving Baseball in Inner Cities program for 18 years.
“The program is designed to bring baseball to inner city kids,” he says. “We coach kids 13 through 18. Each major league team has an RBI program to help bring back interest in baseball in the minority population.”
15 boys and 7 coaches boarded an American Airlines plane for Phoenix on March 18. During their four-day stay, they played a game at Sloan Park and even met and worked out with the Cubs.
“They got a chance to work out with the Cubs, stretch with the players, shag fly balls in BP. Kyle Schwarber even gave my catcher a mitt. Joe Maddon and his staff couldn’t have been nicer. I even got to throw a little BP,” laughed Radcliffe.
The Reviving Baseball in Inner Cities program allows young men who wouldn’t otherwise be able to play baseball, learn camaraderie, build charter and continue their education.
“This is about mentoring these boys, keeping them on the right path,” Radcliffe says. “We want these kids to go to college. Our success rate with these kids is at an all-time high.”
Radcliffe says many of his athletes have even earned college scholarships as a result.
“The responsibility of this program and the coaching staff is to help mentor and develop all young men who want to play the game of baseball,” he says. “Not only are we teaching them the fundamentals of the game but to make sure their grades are in order, we are also father figures to these boys as well.”
The trip was made possible in part by the partnership between Starwood Preferred Guest, Sheraton Hotels & Resorts and MLB, and American Airlines.
“These young men put a lot of time, effort and heart into their team, and Starwood could not be happier to organize this Major League experience for them,” said Mark Vondrasek, SVP of commercial services at Starwood.
Radcliffe says it was a trip the boys will never forget.
“The biggest thrill was that all these young men had the opportunity to do something people would pay thousands of dollars to do, that was to practice with the big league team, ask them questions, talk to the coaches,” he said. “It was a once in a lifetime opportunity. This experience will give these young men, to let them know that I could be in this situation. Look at all the thousands of kids who would love to be in this situation and here I am.”
The Chicago Cubs Union League Boys and Girls Clubs RBI program is fully funded by a grant from Cubs Care. The league serves more than 300 youth in Chicago ages 13-18.