The RBI program (Reviving Baseball in Inner Cities) was established in 1989 to provide inner-city kids the opportunity to play baseball and softball and currently serves around 120,000 youth in 185 different cities. Coach Ron Hayward has been involved with the program for 14 years. The program is operated by the Major League Baseball Association.
My involvement with the RBI program keeps me alive. No doubt. The energy I get from the young men, 16 to 18 years old that I coach is crazy. I get the vibe, and they do, too. These kids have been through a lot, and baseball is their escape. One brother said to me when I was working at a Jersey City high school as a coach, “Stop throwing wood on the fire,” he said. “You coach and play baseball because it is your relaxing place. Then, you go back to Jersey City where you must protect yourself. Why make this the same as that? Make this your getaway place.” So, I did. Baseball was my getaway. And, the kids I coach, are the same. This is their escape. They can confront life on the streets—no food, not a stable place to live, gangs, drugs, and so on—when they get home. But while they are with me, on the field, they can just play.
Most of the kids know who I am before they start playing. They know my story and what I expect. I say, “Listen, I don’t know what you did. I don’t care what you did. You’re with me. This is how we are going to do it. You are going to do what I ask. If you can’t do what I ask, then get off the field. You came here for a reason. Let me do my job!”
Kids need to be challenged every day. If not, then you aren’t setting them upright. What’s the point? When you take an inner-city kid onto the field, he’s strong. He’s already made it to 16 years old in a violent neighborhood, so he’s got it. I know he has the talent. I know he’s already good, and he has the heart. I just got to make him understand, that if he can use that inner-city mind and try to become great, then he can’t be beat. Growing up on the streets is the hardest thing in the world, and they’ve already beat that.
I fought for 18 years on the streets of Jersey City. When people ask me if I could ever go to war, I laugh. I’ve already been to war, people. I had guns in my face. I’ve seen my cousins get killed. I’ve seen people die. That’s why I know how these kids feel. In Jersey City, you are at war all the time. You have little kids shooting back and forth. I ask my players, “Do you want to be that, or do you want to be this?” And, without hesitation, they choose baseball. They want their lives to change, and I’m helping out.
I promise you, 90 percent of the people involved in violence, don’t want to be in it. Most of the kids in the gangs don’t want to be there, anyway, but are peer pressured because that’s what everybody’s doing. If I get them in time, they see a better future, and they want out.
The crazy part about violent neighborhoods is if kids are involved in something, like sports, the gangs don’t even bother them. Gangs go after gangs. They don’t go after innocent people. Innocent people just get caught up in it. When a kid crosses over, and he plays sports, they’re not bothering him. They might crackle on him a little bit, and call him, “Babe.” But, I’m telling you, the gangs respect that. That’s not to say there aren’t times when these kids get angry with their situation. Of course, they do. I did. When my little brother died at 16 years old on the streets, I wanted to turn over. I wanted to give up because I felt like it wasn’t fair. But, I didn’t! I didn’t give up on myself. I knew there was another path in life. That’s what I teach and show, my players.
That doesn’t mean, we don’t get kids out of control here and there. If that happens, I tell them flat out, “You ain’t playing.” It’s zero tolerance. If they can’t get it together, then leave. That’s usually when the other kids jump in and say, “Man, get it together and grow up. Let’s go.” It becomes a beat in the head by me and their peers.
I pair the juniors and seniors up with the freshmen and the sophomores, so it becomes a brothership. They support each other and come together. I make sure every kid explains their situation, so the players understand where they are coming from. They teach each other.
And, we stick together off the field, too.
Once we walk away from practice or a game, it’s not a coach thing for me, it’s a brother thing. It’s more of a, “Respect me, and I’ll respect you.” There’s no need for me to always be disciplined. But, during the games, they know, “Let’s get it.” I’ve won two RBI World Series in my 14 years, so it’s working.
I don’t think I ever failed with them, 100 percent. They all graduated from high school. I would say, 95 percent finished college. I got a lot that graduated college in the last four to five years. They are doing better than me, some of them—living in Texas in big houses, married. It’s crazy.
I sometimes say to myself, “Wow! I turned it into this?”
If I wasn’t doing this, I think I would be in heaven already. The struggles I’ve had. I almost lost my life once with my kidney disease in ICU. It was bad, but just like my best friend said, “Don’t give up bro, because if you give up, you are going to die.” Straight up. He said, “Do this. This is you. This is what you are supposed to do.”
From Corey Koskie – Linklete- Ron Hayward has been on the waiting list for a kidney transplant for 5 years. He is on dialysis for 9 hours a night. His blood type is O+. Please contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org if you can help Coach Hayward .