ST. PAUL, Minn. -- From where he's standing behind home plate at Billy Peterson Field, Travis Logan can see the softball field where he coached a 10-year-old Joe Mauer. Logan can watch Peterson, a former coach of Paul Molitor, drag the field in preparation for the next game. He could direct you to the nearby house he grew up in, or to Highland Park High School, the alma mater of Jack Morris.
Logan is only 40, but with 25 years of coaching experience under his belt, he's almost a living piece of local baseball history. And for the last several years, his coaching efforts have been invested in St. Paul Midway Baseball, a program run in conjunction with the Reviving Baseball in Inner Cities program under the umbrella of Minnesota Twins RBI.
After starting out with four teams of 12 kids each, this branch of the RBI program now has 36 teams with more than 300 participants.
"When we started off, [the park's league] was just the one team, and you made the thing or not," Logan said. "One of our big things is, everyone makes the team. No one gets cut. Even the ones that come late, you find a way to get them on the team, some way, somehow. You have kids that are more skilled, kids that are not as skilled, coming from this broad area of St. Paul here."
Minnesota Twins RBI, the host of this week's Jr. RBI Classic, has been lauded by Major League Baseball officials as a model program for RBI, which works to bring opportunities to play baseball and softball to underserved kids. The Twins program has been around for 21 years and serves more than 4,800 athletes. It's dedicated people like Logan, the president of the league, who make the leagues thrive.
"We reach kids in the community that otherwise wouldn't necessarily play baseball," Camille Logan, the executive director of Midway Baseball, said. "To see them come in, have a great experience and keep coming back, and then we see them coming back to umpire, coming back to coach teams -- it's awesome. That's gratification in itself."
This isn't Minnesota's first time hosting RBI. The state has hosted the RBI World Series the past three years. The St. Paul program was chosen to send a team to this year's event, which was held in conjunction with this year's All-Star Game, and Camille Logan said it's been a pleasure to host the participating teams from across the continent and watch the players bond.
"It's an awesome experience, because we even got to talk to [the Jays Care RBI team from Canada] at FanFest," Camille Logan said. "To see the positive experience that they're having ... one of the coaches was telling us that their kids came in thinking, 'Oh, Americans, we hear they're rude, and they're this and they're that, but these guys are awesome. They've made our experience here great.' That just shows, OK, we're doing something good here."
The boys on the Minnesota team had a once-in-a-lifetime week that included clinics at MLB FanFest, visits from former Major Leaguers and a trip to the Home Run Derby. Coach Fred Sauer, whose 12-year-old son Edward is on the Minnesota team, says the kids have learned a lot in the process.
"They really learn a lot about sportsmanship," Sauer said. "This is a good program for that, because they're playing teams from different levels. They get to see everybody else making efforts and commitments to it, so I think in the background, they're learning."
And while the kids spend the week making new friends, the adults spent the week trading tips with other programs, hoping to grow RBI in each different city.
"In the evenings back in the dorms, we've had a chance to talk to coaches from Canada that are just starting off this year. [It's] Game 6 or 7 for them," Travis Logan said. "Talking to other programs that are where we were maybe 5, 10 years ago, just developing. The team out of Rhode Island is kind of at that point as they're growing their numbers. So just to interact -- we have the same kind of struggles with some of the players in the program and some of the same kind of rewards with the opportunities that we have."
Camille Logan said the exchange of ideas is part of what's helped their program evolve into a success.
"It consists of teamwork," she said. "Not only as players, but as coaching staff and administration, you have to work together, and you kind of have to take from other programs that you see. 'Oh, that's a good idea. That's a good idea.' And you just have to kind of work with it. Over time, it'll come."