It already was a warm July morning in Los Angeles. It was a perfect day for a road trip to the mountains, the beach or the local park. My itinerary for the day, however, included Inglewood, Carson and Lynwood in south Los Angeles, home to sites of the Los Angeles Dodgers Foundation Dodgers RBI (Reviving Baseball in Inner Cities) program.
In tandem with a professional photographer, I set out to watch some baseball and softball, and to see what the Dodgers RBI program was really all about. So often youth sports are associated with overbearing parents, ranting coaches (often living vicariously through the younger players, usually sons or daughters) and uninterested players. I had to experience this for myself. What I witnessed at Darby and Rogers Parks in Inglewood, Victoria Park in Carson and at Lynwood Park in Lynwood took all of the negative aspects of youth sports and threw them in the nearby Pacific Ocean.
What I saw was a collection of parents who were supportive and enthusiastic -- pitching tents and supplying a picnic for family and friends -- and cheering in support of their respective sons and daughters. What I saw was a collection of quality fields -- thanks to the LADF Dodgers Dreamfields program -- and park employees happily engaged in the games as groundskeepers, scorekeepers and umpires. What I saw was a collection of coaches, both male and female, who were organized, positive and nurturing in working with their players, many who may have been playing on a team for the first time. And what I saw most of all were a lot of young boys and girls pitching, hitting (sometimes off a tee), running, fielding, throwing and having fun while decked out from head to toe in their very own Dodger Blue.
What I heard was even more powerful. I heard from parents who were so proud of their daughter for “stepping up and coaching younger girls” in softball, despite a serious knee injury that put her on the bench. I heard from an umpire who was a veteran of Dodgers RBI for many years and “looked forward to his Saturdays to help the kids.” I heard from a coach who had previously coached on the high school level that told me “it’s the most fun I’ve ever had in coaching.” And I heard from a player who “couldn’t believe he did it” after playing catcher for the first time.
Apart and separate from the balls and strikes on the field, the Dodgers Foundation, as it does throughout the summer in LA County, also presented a Dodger Day in Lynwood that featured a clinic, former Dodger players, various health-related tents and booths, Dodger game tickets and, above all else, Dodger Dogs!
Successful youth sports programs thrive when there is a coordination of and collaboration with the sponsoring organization, the communities, the volunteers, the parents, and the players. In fact, the collaboration is absolutely essential in ensuring that key outcomes of sports-based youth development (i.e., effort, resilience, teamwork, sportsmanship and having fun) are encouraged by everyone involved and passed along to the players, both on and off the field.
In Ernest Thayers’ epic baseball poem entitled, “Casey at the Bat,” the local slugger, unlike the numerous Dodgers’ players and their walk-off heroics, swung and missed to end the home team’s rally and the game. There may not have been joy in Mudville then, but on my journey that day I saw a lot of joy in Inglewood, Carson and Lynwood as boys and girls were playing ball and digging it.