12 Inner-City Evansville Kids Headed To MLB All-Star Week
Because of Mattingly Charities, Keilan Johnson, 12, is flying on an airplane for the first time.
Many of the kids who showed up for a baseball clinic sponsored by Mattingly Charities RBI back in March at the Boys & Girls Club of Evansville had never thrown a baseball. When a team of 12 youngsters was chosen to represent Evansville in the 2017 MLB Youth All-Star Classic in Miami, Fla., the kids' hard work and stick-to-it attitudes was rewarded.
He said he's not scared one bit. "Yes, you are gonna be scared," his 13-year-old teammate Jamon Farmer interjected. "You have a window seat."
Johnson and Farmer are part of Mattingly Charities' RBI team, a project by Evansville native and Miami Marlins manager Don Mattingly designed to bring baseball to inner city youth. The project is largely supported by the Boys & Girls Club and the YMCA.
The team of 12 boys, along with five coaches, will fly to Miami for Major League Baseball's All-Star Week, competing against other youth from around the nation. The MLB selected eight baseball teams and four softball teams.
"It feels great to be going," Johnson said. "It's a great opportunity, something you don't really do a lot."
The 12 boys don't have extensive baseball experience -- they practiced as a full team for the first time just about a month and a half ago.
"My teammates help me out throughout the game," Johnson said. "They give me pointers."
"I got into playing baseball, and I just liked it," Stewart said. "When I found out about all this, I liked it even more."
The team of youngsters were handpicked to travel (all expenses paid) based on behavior, grades and citizenship. The boys spent Thursday night at the YMCA, all excited to leave early the next morning.
"I'm starting pitcher," Stewart said excitedly. "I'm gonna throw some fastballs."
Coach Brandon Mattingly said he's been incredibly grateful to coach the boys and go with them on the trip. "It was very humbling for me as a coach to see them grow," he said. "They've worked really hard in the last month."
Brandon Mattingly said the boys have bonded and become a strong team. "They have so much heart and dedication," he said. "We've got some pretty decent athletes that have come together."
Brandon Mattingly said he knows what they're doing in Miami, but he still has no clue what to expect. "It's exciting," he said. "This is something I dreamed about as a kid." Don Mattingly said he's happy for the boys as they travel to Florida. “We’re excited," he said. "There are all kinds of opportunities for the kids. They will have a chance to be on the field.”
The boys, in addition to playing six games against other youth teams, will have the chance to meet Major League Baseball players throughout the week.
“I would love as a kid to be able to do something like that," Don Mattingly said. "I am proud that (my local program) was chosen to participate.”
Pete Paradossi, who serves on the board of Mattingly Charities, said it's gratifying to work for a program that provides such unique opportunities for those they're helping. "We've got a nice board of local support as well as national sponsors that made this work," he said. "It's really neat."
To Paradossi, baseball means fun and family. "With my two boys, they grew up playing baseball and I saw how it brought them together," he said. "It's really gratifying to see young kids feel that and experience that, as well."
Paradossi sees the good Mattingly Charities is doing in these boys, and he wishes them the best as they play ball in Miami. "They're growing as individuals and as a team," he said. "This experience will be life-changing."