CLEVELAND -- It was a beautiful day for baseball Thursday at Progressive Field. And 1,000 youngsters from Cleveland's inner city took full advantage of the opportunity to be on the same field where big leaguers plays and so many memories of Cleveland baseball have taken place. The kids ran the bases, played catch, got hitting tips, were taught the values of proper nutrition, met Indians players and coaches and had a full scale baseball game.
For many, it was the first time they had been inside a major league stadium. To actually get on the field was even more special and something they'll remember the rest of their lives. "I didn't know the field was this big," said William Edmonds as he gazed around the ballpark. "It's real big." Cleveland Indians Charities (CIC) and Cleveland Baseball Federation (CBF) hosted the baseball and health education clinic for Reviving Baseball in Inner Cities (RBI) participants. The event led off the 2008 RBI baseball and softball seasons. The participants ages 10-14 years rotated between a variety of recreational and educational stations. The kids got an up close and personal look at Indians star Grady Sizemore, the Cleveland RBI program ambassador. When Sizemore stepped on the field, he was immediately greeted similar to the way teenagers used to welcome The Beatles. "Baseball does a great job getting kids involved," Sizemore said. "They never had stuff like this when I was a kid. This is great." The festivities were supported by the Cleveland Clinic, KPMG (the national sponsor of the national RBI program whose local chapter provided volunteers) and the city of Cleveland. "It was a true group effort," Indians executive director of community outreach Jayne Churchmack said. "We had over 150 volunteers. It looked like the kids had a blast." "It's wonderful," said Pamela Marshall Holmes, senior director of community outreach at Cleveland Clinic. "We're very happy to be a part of it. We're really excited about this initiative." It was a day for big kids and little kids alike. "As an adult, it's the coolest thing," said Bob Ross, the president of the Cleveland Baseball Federation. "The kids were so excited to start things it was hard to get them to stay in the vans when we were getting ready to check in." "It's fun," said Sizemore, who exchanged high-fives with the participants. "I consider myself a big kid anyway." Outfielder David Dellucci, pitcher Masa Kobayashi, third-base coach Joel Skinner and hitting coach Derek Shelton offered instruction. Pitcher C.C. Sabathia and second baseman Josh Barfield signed autographs. "This is the first time I've ever seen the field," said Andre Harris. "I got to run around the bases." The festivities ended in a "First Pitch" exhibition game played on-field prior to the Indians' game against the Twins. "I want to express my gratitude to everyone who got involved," Cleveland mayor Frank Jackson said. "It's up to us to help youngsters any way we can, and this is part of that." Cleveland Indians Charities (CIC) was established in 1989 to make a positive contribution to the quality of life for thousands of youth by providing educational and recreational opportunities. Since its inception, CIC has donated nearly $5.5 million to agencies and organizations in northeast Ohio that focus on youth education and recreation. CIC has donated $275,000 this year to impact the RBI and youth baseball and softball programs in northeast Ohio. The Cleveland Indians, through CIC, designated two organizations as the beneficiaries of this financial investment. A total of $125,000 has been donated to the Cleveland Baseball Federation, America's oldest youth-service organization dedicated to sports and offers free baseball and softball for more than 5,000 kids in Cleveland. The Indians' organization has now donated more than $2.1 million dollars to the Reviving Baseball in Inner Cities and youth baseball programs since its partnership. A total of $150,000 has been donated to the Cleveland Metropolitan School District to support its high school boys baseball and girls softball programs. Funds raised by the CIC will be used for 20 teams in 10 area high schools for the fourth straight year of the 11-year partnership. The Indians' organization has now donated more than $1.7 million dollars to the Cleveland Metropolitan School District since annual contributions began in 1995. The kids ended their memorable day by watching the Indians take on the Twins. "If they can leave here happy, that's the important thing," Sizemore said. There's little doubt everyone did leave happy.
Steve Herrick is a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.