The St. Louis Cardinals have proven that a wild-card berth into the postseason can be a path to a championship.
In 2011, before winning the World Series in a dramatic seven-game series against the Texas Rangers, the Cardinals failed to win the National League Central. But they parlayed a second-place finish into a title.
The Mathews-Dickey Boys and Girls Club Reviving Baseball in Inner Cities (RBI) junior division baseball team finished second to the Chicago White Sox RBI in the Central Region Tournament in Minnesota.
Undeterred, manager Rae Merriweather’s team defeated host Indianapolis 13-3 in the RBI Regional runner-up game. The prize is the eighth and final slot in the 27th RBI World Series this week at the Jackie Robinson Training Complex in Vero Beach, Fla.
Advancing with the White Sox and Mathews-Dickey are Puerto Rico RBI Carolina (World Region champion), RBI of Greater Harrisburg, Pa. (Mid-Atlantic Region), Boston Red Sox Foundation RBI (Northeast Region), Miami Marlins RBI (Southeast Region), New Orleans Youth Academy (Southwest Region) and Arizona RBI (West Region.)
The Junior Division teams are comprised of players 13-15 years old and Mathews-Dickey was scheduled to play Puerto Rico-Carolina on Monday and Boston on Tuesday, respectively in games to determine seeding.
Elimination games and pursuit for an RBI World Series title begin Thursday morning (August 8).
Merriweather praised his resilient team, the lone representative at the World Series that did not win its region.
“They have earned a chance to compete against the best in their age group from around the world,” he said.
“St. Louis can be proud of what these players have achieved and, win or lose, these kids are champions.”
Mathews-Dickey coach Al Manson called qualifying for the tournament and the trip to Florida “a fitting reward for the effort and commitment (this team) has made."
“These kids have worked hard to improve their skills and build a real sense of teamwork.”
Team member Landon Willbrand said the best part of the journey “is that we get to show everyone what St. Louis baseball is all about.
“Getting to come to Florida and the Jackie Robinson Training Complex and getting to meet players from other countries has been an amazing experience,” he said.
“No one has given me this kind opportunity before and, when I am successful, I will pay it forward to support Mathews-Dickey.”
While this is Mathews-Dickey’s first World Series, several teams are making return visits.
Following a championship game loss to Philadelphia RBI last season, White Sox RBI pitcher and outfielder Sean Moore told mlb.com his team “is a year older and a year wiser.”
“I feel we have a much better team this year. I feel like we can win it this year,” he said.
The team does more than just sport the name of the White Sox. The American League franchise is fully invested in the team and the players’ education.
White Sox RBI coach Marcus Rodgers praised the Chicago White Sox for their efforts toward the RBI program.
“The Chicago White Sox do an excellent job of putting these kids in the right places so that they can be successful not only on the baseball field, but also off,” coach Marcus Rodgers said.
“We have tutors. They do ACT prep. We have a whole group and a whole team around the kids that we just pour into them all year round. We pride ourselves, with the help of the White Sox, to be able to assist these guys in whatever they want to do in life.”
Former St. Louis Cardinal player and front office member Ted Savage hosts an annual golf tournament with some of the proceeds going to the Mathews-Dickey RBI program.
Tony Reagins, MLB’s executive vice president of baseball and softball development, visited East St. Louis earlier this summer to participate in the Fun at Bat and Play Ball program. He said RBI and other programs are vital to increasing minority participation in baseball.
“These are communities that sometimes have forgotten baseball, but we see kids engaged. We were in Gary, Ind., a couple months ago, and there were about 250 mostly African-American kids taking part and having fun,” he told mlb.com.
“To me, as an African-American, to see that was encouraging and exciting, because these kids were all-in on baseball.
“We understand how important it is to connect our game with young people around the country and the world. In the last five years, that growth has been consistent.”
Reagins added that the annual doom-and-gloom articles on black participation the Major Leagues and other levels that are published around Jackie Robinson Day (April 15) often leave out an important aspect.
“We see something different. We’re down in the grassroots and seeing something that’s different. It’s cool to be able to see kids from all backgrounds participating,” he said.
If the St. Louis Blues can win a Stanley Cup for the first time in 51 years – and after being last in the NHL in points in January – Mathews-Dickey could certainly have a wild week in Vero Beach as a wild-card team and bring its first RBI World Series title back to St. Louis.
Ed Reed for President
It lasted more than 30 minutes. It was gripping, emotional and also very humorous. It was former Baltimore Ravens safety Ed Reed’s induction speech. It’s worth a visit to nfl.com to view and listen.
Reed described how a police officer helped put him on the road to the Hall of Fame.
Calling his neighborhood “crime-infested,” Reed said a police officer gave him a ride home one night to deliver him to his parents and remove him from potential trouble.
“I was like, ‘Oh, my God, don’t do that,’” Reed said.
“Take me to jail because my mama is home. I remember him saying: ‘Son, I know you. I see you around here playing sports. You don’t need to be hanging with those other kids and those other guys because you have something.’”
He then issued a warning to black Americans that all should heed.
“I would say to the point of what we have going on in our society, don’t aggravate or should I say push an officer to have to do something they shouldn’t have to do,” he said.
Instead of the traditional gold polo shirt worn by Hall of Fame inductees at the Hall of Fame Game on August 1, Reed wore a T-shirt with the faces of victims of questionable police shootings and racial incidents.
He discussed the racist mass shootings in El Paso, and the mass murder on July 28 in Gilroy, Calif.
“You know mental illness is one of the biggest problems in our world,” Reed said.
“It really kills. So, I’ve got to say prayers to the families that have experienced the mass shootings the last couple of days. Just in general across this country, it’s something we really need to address.”
Hours later – and just miles away from Canton, Ohio and the Pro Football hall of Fame, another mass shooter stuck in Dayton, Ohio.
As for the humor, there was plenty. He thanked his barber for his unique haircut, which led to the most distinctive bronze bust in Hall of Fame history.
He thanked former Miami Hurricanes teammate and close friend Reggie Wayne for helping get through their times together when they had no money and the electricity was cut off.
“We really gonna light these candles and stay here?” he said as the crowd laughed.
He chided the Cleveland Browns and Cincinnati Bengals, but said he had great respect or both franchises.
“I also had 30 interceptions against them. It wasn’t my fault they changed quarterbacks (frequently),” he said.
The Reid Roundup
First, thank you to Joan Lee Berkman at Face Watchers for her assistance with the Mathews-Dickey RBI World Series information … Dallas Cowboys running back Ezekiel Elliott reportedly will sit out the season without a new contract … Clarence Hill, longtime Cowboys beat writer for the Fort-Worth Star Telegram, is reporting the team has offered Elliott a deal that would not surpass that of L.A. Rams running back Todd Gurley … If the Kansas City Chiefs had not had to deal with the transgressions of former Chief Kareem Hunt and current Chief Tyreek Hill, I think they would seek a deal with the Cowboys for Elliott … Boston Celtics forward Jayson Tatum says he played “a big role” in recruiting Kemba Walker to sign with his team … The Washington Wizards have offered guard Bradley Beal a three-year, $111 million contract extension – which he hasn’t signed. He has until Oct. 21 to decide.
Alvin A. Reid was honored as the 2017 “Best Sports Columnist – Weeklies” in the Missouri Press Association’s Better Newspaper Contest and is a New York Times contributor. He is a panelist on the Nine Network program, Donnybrook, a weekly contributor to “The Charlie Tuna Show” on KFNS and appears monthly on “The Dave Glover Show” on 97.1 Talk.” Reach him on Twitter @aareid1.