Hitting the big time

Kenny Searle scored a chance to travel the coun­try and play a lot of base­ball, thanks to the Phil­lies RBI Seni­or Team.

Port Rich­mond nat­ive Kenny Searle plays second base and pitches for the Phil­lies RBI team.

Pro­fes­sion­als like Jimmy Rollins, Carl Craw­ford and CC Sabathia began their early play­ing days with Ma­jor League Base­ball’s RBI pro­gram.  

The pro­gram — form­ally called Re­viv­ing Base­ball in In­ner Cit­ies — is a youth-out­reach pro­ject de­signed to in­crease par­ti­cip­a­tion in base­ball, and also the num­ber of tal­en­ted ath­letes pre­pared to play in col­lege and the minor leagues.

Kenny Searle is next to join the list of im­press­ive RBI names who played be­fore him. The multi-tal­en­ted Searle, 18, pitches and plays second base for the Phil­lies RBI Seni­or Team.

Hav­ing bus­ted his first win­dow at the age 4, Searle grew up play­ing for the Port Rich­mond Ti­gers. He com­peted for North Cath­ol­ic High School as a fresh­man and then spent the fol­low­ing three years at Kens­ing­ton High School, re­ceiv­ing All-Pub­lic hon­ors as a seni­or.

For the thou­sands of play­ers who try out for the Phil­lies RBI pro­gram, only 15 are se­lec­ted for the seni­or team. Those play­ers come from throughout the Delaware Val­ley; Searle is one of only two play­ers from Phil­adelphia.

“I felt very ac­com­plished when I found out I made the team,” said Searle. “I think they liked me be­cause I can pitch and my second base (play) is tre­mend­ous. They would rather take a kid who can play two po­s­i­tions well so they can have more ver­sat­il­ity. I be­lieve that’s why they took me.”

Searle tells the story of when he first tried out for the Phil­lies Ju­ni­or Team in 2008.

“I was fif­teen at the time, and bat­ting at the last try­out right be­fore the cut,” he re­called. “Next thing I know, I get hit with a fast­ball right to the face. I broke my cheekbone and both nas­al bones on top of my nose. I got sur­gery, and the next week I found out I made the team.

“I wasn’t sup­posed to play un­til the end of the sea­son, but I ac­tu­ally told the coach I could play,” Searle con­tin­ued. “I only took two days off and came right back to play. I wasn’t gun-shy after that; it didn’t scare me. Once I got back on the field, I played like it nev­er even happened.”

Both his tal­ent and his guts are what make Searle a standout play­er on the Phil­lies RBI squad. The team travels and plays in loc­al and re­gion­al com­pet­i­tions — sponsored by Ma­jor League Base­ball — for the op­por­tun­ity to play in the RBI World Series held each year in Au­gust. This year’s RBI World Series is hos­ted by the Min­nesota Twins at Tar­get Field in Min­neapol­is, Minn.

RBI play­ers wear the ma­jor-league team’s uni­form, fly in their planes, are chauf­feured in their buses and re­ceive ex­pense ac­counts for meals when they travel.

“It’s been a good ex­per­i­ence all around,” Searle said with a smile.  ldquo;I even had the op­por­tun­ity to pitch at Yan­kee Sta­di­um.”

Last week­end, the Phil­lies RBI Seni­or Team traveled to Har­ris­burg to play in the Mid-At­lantic Re­gion­al Tour­na­ment to qual­i­fy for the World Series. The tour­na­ment was held at Metro Bank Park, home field of the Har­ris­burg Sen­at­ors, the Double-A af­fil­i­ate of the Wash­ing­ton Na­tion­als.

“This week­end was great,” said Searle. “We were play­ing on the best fields in Har­ris­burg. Play­ing on these beau­ti­ful fields made me feel like I was a pro.”

The Phil­lies RBI team played against the Bal­timore Ori­oles RBI squad from Bal­timore, Md., the Pir­ates RBI team from Pitt­s­burgh, Pa., the Buck Le­onard RBI team from Rocky Mount, N.C., and the Har­ris­burg RBI squad.

Searle’s team placed third in the tour­na­ment. The Port Rich­mond hurl­er played so well that he even caught the eye of a former Phil­lies great.

“Dick Al­len came over and in­tro­duced him­self to me and my wife,” ex­plained Kenny’s fath­er, Ken Searle. “He told us he just wanted to say how great Kenny played. He said Chase Ut­ley bet­ter watch out be­cause that’s go­ing to be the next Chase Ut­ley. Kenny has such great mech­an­ics and work eth­ic with base­ball, and he’s a team play­er.

“If I start telling you how proud I am of Kenny, I’ll cry,” ad­ded his fath­er. “He is a good, good base­ball play­er, and I’m ex­tremely proud of him. I was dis­ap­poin­ted they didn’t make the World Series, but when Dick Al­len came up to me, that made my week­end.”

The Phil­lies RBI team still has a few games to play over the sum­mer. In Oc­to­ber, Searle will be­gin his off-sea­son train­ing.  

“I go to the gym and run, lift weights, and hit off the tee with my RBI coach,” ex­plained Searle. “He’ll video­tape me and he’ll show me what I can im­prove on. It’s not man­dat­ory, but I feel like I get bet­ter and play bet­ter dur­ing the sea­son when I listen to what my coach tells me.”

Searle will at­tend com­munity col­lege in the fall and play for the Phil­lies RBI team next sea­son.

His plan is to es­tab­lish a found­a­tion in school this year and then try to be re­cruited by a Di­vi­sion I school the fol­low­ing year.

“Of course, he wants to play for the pros, but all he really wants is to play for a col­lege and get an edu­ca­tion,” said Kenny’s fath­er. “That’s the kind of ma­tur­ity he has at eight­een years of age.” ••

Re­port­er Gab­ri­ella Sacidor can be reached at Gab­ri­ella.Sacidor@com­cast.net

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