As Reggie Whittemore sees it, a Sunday afternoon of baseball at Vanderbilt’s Hawkins Field is like a ray of sunlight on a dark and cloudy day.
Some 100 Nashville inner-city children attend each Commodore Sunday home game thanks to a partnership between Whittemore’s organization, Nashville RBI, and Vanderbilt baseball.
Commodores coach Tim Corbin and former VU pitching star David Price split the cost on the 100 tickets. Each child also gets a hot dog, a David Price shirt and the opportunity to take the field with Vanderbilt players during the national anthem.
“They get to see enough violence and enough hatred going on in their neighborhoods,” Whittemore said. “This is an outlet for them to be a part of something positive.”
Whittemore, who played at McGavock High and Lipscomb University and spent seven years as a player in the Boston Red Sox minor-league system, launched Nashville RBI in 1996 after receiving an $8,000 grant from Major League Baseball.
Approximately 1,300 boys and girls ages 6-14 participate in the program, which aims to increase exposure to the sport, encourage greater inclusion of minorities into the mainstream of the games, increase the self-esteem of disadvantaged children and encourage academic participation and achievement.
“It really didn’t take too much thinking to get involved in something like that because it’s for the city and it’s for kids,” Corbin said.
Whittemore said he hopes Nashville RBI’s relationship with Vanderbilt lasts beyond 2008.
“We get to bring kids to a college baseball game and get them to a college campus,” he said. “They wouldn’t have an opportunity like this if this wasn’t available to them.
“It’s a great to come and watch guys hit, play defense and play real good baseball. The kids can take it back when they play their games. They’ve learned something.”
Corbin and Price have been involved with Nashville RBI in other ways recently. Corbin joined Whittemore onstage at the Nashville Sports Council’s O’Charley’s Dinner of Champions to present NashvilleRBI board member Butch McCord with a Lifetime Achievement Award on March 12.
Price joined Whittemore and McCord at the Nashville Children’s Theatre following the performance of a play on Jackie Robinson to receive Nashville RBI’s first annual “Butch McCord Student of the Game Award” on Feb. 12, recognizing the positive influence he has had on Nashville area kids, and also participated as a guest instructor at Nashville RBI’s annual coaches’ clinic Jan. 19.
When asked to help pay for the costs of 100 tickets to Vanderbilt’s Sunday games this season, Price didn’t flinch.
“He came from a situation like that, albeit it was Murfreesboro, but still, he was given the opportunity to play, and look what he's done with it,” Corbin said. “I think there are a lot of David Prices out there.
“He’s all about something like this. I told him his biggest positive is that he treats things as if he’s still playing a kid’s game. I hope he never loses that focus.”
Price, a product of Murfreesboro’s Blackman High, pitched three years at Vanderbilt and was the No. 1 overall selection by the Tampa Bay Devil Rays in last summer’s Major League Draft. He is currently with Tampa Bay’s Class A team in Vero Beach, Fla.
Vanderbilt plays host to Auburn on Sunday, and Nashville RBI kids will again be out in full force.
“You can see a big smile on their faces when they come out here,” Whittemore said. “It’s a big positive for us.”