By Jason Klein
For most of the fans in attendance for the Indianapolis Indians’ July 16 game against the Gwinnett Braves, it was just another swelteringly hot game of baseball. The sky was crystal blue, the grass was emerald green and the flags out behind left-center field blew gently outwards. For the members of Play Ball Indiana, however, that evening marked Reviving Baseball in Inner Cities (RBI) Night at Victory Field.
“(RBI Night) just encompasses an opportunity to get inner-city baseball and softball players together with sponsors and board members and coaches and umpires,” Mike Lennox, executive director of Play Ball Indiana, said. “We’re all kind of enjoying a common bond and getting a chance for kids to see a neat game that a lot of them don’t get a chance to see very often.”
According to Lennox, 50 or 60 kids from Play Ball Indiana were expected at the event.
“It’s maybe somewhat scary,” he said.
Featured at the event was Bob Muzikowski, author of “Safe at Home,” a narrative recounting Muzikowski’s story of organizing a baseball league in Chicago’s now nonexistent Cabrini-Green public housing development.
“The main reason I’m here is to try to get people more involved. It happens to be baseball is the carrot but it could be dance, it could be soccer, it could be track, but for us it’s baseball,” he said. “I started to have a catch with a boy 24 years ago in Cabrini-Green housing project and it became the biggest inner-city little league in America.”
Muzikowski gave away and signed copies of “Safe at Home” during the event.
“They were giving them out for free to support RBI just as a nice takeaway so it doesn’t have to be perfect; it just has to be done,” he said. “Usually when you come to events like that there could be a little chaos in the beginning and I think a lot of the people didn’t realize they could grab a free gift.”
Another highlight of the night occurred directly before the start of the game as Muzikowski and the members of Play Ball Indiana in attendance came onto the field to pose for photos. He threw the ceremonial first pitch before the ball game along with two softball players from Play Ball Indiana.
“I was low and outside with the pitch,” Muzikowski said. “I’m usually a catcher, I caught from when I was eight all the way through college.”
At the end of the day Lennox said he was satisfied with the event.
“I think tonight went really well,” he said. “It’s always a concern whether all the kids are going to make it and when they all roll in and you see all of these kids of all different shapes and sizes and heights and weights and all having a great time at the ballpark, that’s what it’s all about.
“I think we’ll raise some awareness and we’ll raise a few dollars that will help pay for some of the equipment and uniforms that these kids need and the more people that know about this program the more chances we’ll have for sponsorships.”
Lennox also talked about Play Ball Indiana’s upcoming plans.
“We’re going to try to do another event in the fall tied to the World Series, try to get a lot of corporate folks and sponsors to come be part of that, enjoy the World Series and learn a bit about how they can help the young kids right here.”
Muzikowski offered his thoughts on RBI.
“We’re the only nation where the poor people are fat so we’ve just gotten spoiled and for the youth today to not get in trouble, stay out of jail and not be violent we’ve got to get in the game and we do that through baseball in Chicago and RBI’s doing that here,” he said.
“It just should be ten times bigger.”
Editor’s note – Jason Klein is a sophomore at Carmel High School and is a member of the school’s newspaper staff. His father Andy is a professor at IUPUI and a board member for Play Ball Indiana.