"A very small percentage of all kids will fulfill the dream of going on to be a big-league player, but baseball can impact positively the direction of their lives."
Ripken's foundation, named after his late father, stresses education and nutrition in addition to all the baseball lessons. The foundation's overriding mission is to "use baseball and softball to develop character and give disadvantaged youth opportunities to succeed." In that respect, its goal dovetails perfectly with the RBI program.
"I have great admiration for Cal Ripken, Jr., and his family and am extremely pleased that Major League Baseball and the Cal Ripken, Sr. Foundation will join forces to provide children with a program that will help them grow and build a better future," Major League Baseball Commissioner Allan H. (Bud) Selig said in a statement.
MLB has administered the initiative since 1991, and it's grown from 14 cities to more than 200 worldwide. The program embraces more than 100,000 kids each year and has donated more than $20 million in resources over the last 15 years. One hundred fifty players have been drafted from the ranks of RBI, and six of them have been first-round picks.
Ripken, who will be inducted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame later this summer, said it's important to use his fame to impact the game in a positive way. On Monday, he persuaded Detroit's Curtis Granderson and Baltimore's Corey Patterson to attend the press conference and say a few words about the program's value.
"I don't get too caught up in sticking your chest out and getting caught up in the attention," Ripken said. "I see the attention as an opportunity to do good things such as this. ... I always say I get more attention than I deserve, but at the same time, attention can be focused and directed in the right way.
"If you bring attention to problems or needs, it can be very helpful. In this Hall of Fame year, I'm glad to actually turn the attention away from me, personally, and put it on the game and the kids."
Bob DuPuy, the president and chief operating officer of MLB, said he couldn't ask for a better partner than Ripken.
"We're enormously honored to [have] one of the terrific ambassadors of the game," DuPuy said, "who played his entire career here in Baltimore and who is just revered throughout Major League baseball for his work ethic, for his sportsmanship and for the type of grace we'd like to see instilled in young people throughout the RBI program."
When asked about the dwindling number of African-Americans taking part in today's game, DuPuy made a few societal points and addressed his hopes for the future. First and foremost, he said the league is concerned with keeping itself relevant in an ever-changing sea of sports culture.
"Our game is extraordinarily diverse, and it reflects the diversity of American society," he said. "But it's also true that we've lost kids to other sports over the last 25-30 years. We'd like to recapture those kids and those athletes and get them into Major League Baseball. ... I think we're doing better, but I think we've still got a long way to go."