Baseball is back in Far Rockaway. A new baseball league called Far Rockaway RBI, for youth ages 6-14, was formed as one of The Child Center of NY’s youth development programs and held its kick-off event last Saturday. The creation of the league was the result of the commitment and collaboration of many community partners, including Major League Baseball (MLB).
With young people of color becoming less and less inclined to play and embrace the game of baseball, MLB established the Reviving Baseball in the Inner Cities (RBI) program to help reverse the trend.When this program came to the attention of Deepmalya Ghosh, Associate Executive Director for Youth Development and Community Engagement at The Child Center, “I felt it a natural match to connect this effort to the peninsula,” Ghosh said. He reached out to local grassroots organizer Denean Ferguson, who readily lent her support. She became part of a Core Leadership Team that also includes community residents Rob Closs, Sean Hayes, and James Jenkins.
The combined efforts paid off. MLB saw the potential and gave The Child Center of NY rights to operate under the RBI domain. With gently used equipment from Pitch in for Baseball, a Pennsylvania-based nonprofit, the teams are set to play on Saturdays at O’Donohue Park, starting tomorrow.
This moment has been a long time coming. The eastern end of the peninsula has been without an organized baseball league for youth for years. Parents who grew up here recall fondly their memories of being part of a team, playing the game, and incorporating the values they learned playing the sport—and wanted the same for their children.
“I grew up playing baseball,” said James Jenkins, a Core Leadership Team member who also organizes two softball leagues for adults. But when Jenkins was 12 years old, the woman who ran the league left the area—and that was the end of baseball for youth in the community. When his own kids were of age to play baseball, Jenkins took them to participate in leagues in Rosedale and Broad Channel, but he worried about all the kids whose parents weren’t able to travel and felt that baseball had a lot to offer them: In addition to giving kids an activity that keeps them off the streets and out of trouble, Jenkins said, baseball also teaches kids skills like self-discipline, sportsmanship, and networking, and can lead to opportunities for college. He said the excitement of kids and parents alike has been overwhelming, and made for an emotionally moving event on Saturday. “They were all so excited to be a part of something, to see so many people celebrating what they’re doing. It brought joy to my heart.”
Core Leadership Team member Rob Closs, who serves as The Child Center’s Program Director of Compass at P.S. 56, agreed: “As a child, I played little league on the very same field we are using now. The community would come together and watch us play. Now we have the opportunity to make that happen for a new generation. Our kick-off event was better than I could have imagined. Seeing our kids in uniform parading to the field was a sight to be seen. Watching them play was the icing on the cake. It was a great day for Far Rockaway.”
Efforts to keep the league strong will continue long after the last game of the season, as support keeps growing. The New York Mets are providing resources for clinics on field maintenance, coaching, and health and nutrition from Mets coaches and Major and Minor League players affiliated with the MLB team. The Far Rockaway Nonprofit Coalition has been spreading the word, and individuals have been donating through Crowd Rise. The league has also gained the support of Councilman Donovan Richards, who said, “I am a proud and happy supporter of all the work the Child Center of NY does in my district, and this is another great addition to our community that will help teach our kids how to work together while having fun.”