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