Winfield delivers keynote at RBI closing banquet
Hall of Famer touches on life lessons on and off the diamond
MINNEAPOLIS -- Hall of Famer Dave Winfield approached the podium at the 2011 Reviving Baseball in Inner Cities (RBI) World Series baseball closing banquet on Saturday and immediately the crowd of hundreds of players, coaches and parents took notice.
Winfield was an intimidating presence on the field and it hasn't changed in the almost 16 years since he hung up his spikes. Despite his statuesque presence and Hall of Fame credentials, Winfield wanted the teen players to know has more in common with them than it would seem at first glance.
"I don't want to separate myself," Winfield said. "I want to bring myself closer to young people to let you know I'm no different than you. I started right here in St. Paul, Minneapolis. I want you to know that a career with great success, doing great things is not impossible. It is not beyond the range of imagination."
Winfield, who was the keynote speaker at the closing banquet on Saturday at Target Field, had a few very important lessons to share from his experiences.
But what Winfield wanted the players to understand was the ability to achieve dreams, and the hard work and dedication needed to succeed.
"If you don't become a professional baseball player, maybe you don't, but you can still get a college scholarship," Winfield said. "You can do a lot of things. You can do other things around baseball, because you're all not going to make it to the top. You can take advantage of this opportunity, these parents, these coaches, Major League Baseball, everybody, the support system you have around you to help you become all you can be."
David James, the director of MLB's RBI program, appreciated the reality in Winfield's words.
"It's about setting goals and doing what you need to do to achieve your dreams, and all these kids need to hear that," James said. "The other thing I thought was really important that he told them was, not all of them are going to become Major League ballplayers and even fewer will become a Hall of Famer. But to talk to these kids and give them lessons they can apply to their everyday life, that's the important stuff."
Winfield spoke of a less-than-perfect upbringing. However, with a good support system, values, and hard work, he was able to eventually have success.
"I was very fortunate," Winfield said. "Baseball was a savior for me. I found something I loved when I was young. I liked everything about baseball.
"I started with a good foundation. I had a good mother. Good family values, church, neighborhood surrounding me, the schools, it was a great ecosystem for me to grow. I was planted here and I was able to grow. I had good values and I learned a lot from sports."
James knows the importance of having Hall of Famers such as Winfield and Paul Molitor, who spoke at the opening ceremonies, is to the program.
The players learn valuable life lessons from someone they can respect. Winfield's striking presence only adds to the impact.
"I get a kick out of watching kids' faces, watching their reactions," James said. "Folks say that kids nowadays are a little bit jaded, but you see how quickly they all stood up and gave him a standing ovation. They're all ballplayers. They know what it means to have someone in the Hall of Fame to come speak to them."
James also announced the winners of Wednesday's workout day. In the senior division, James Seymore from Houston won the best outfielder competition. Houston was honored as the best team overall by the scouts at the workout day.
Chicago's Felix De Jesus was named the best infielder and Tim Kosman from Venice, Calif., was named the best catcher.
Lenin Sanchez from Tampa won the 60-yard dash. For the juniors, the Dominican Republic's Gustavo Cabrera won the 60-yard dash. Los Angeles' Tyree Davis won the home to home run speed competition. Austin Mikula from Philadelphia and Hidekel Gonzales from the Dominican Republic finished in a tie for the catcher's accuracy throw.
The Chicago White Sox won the outfield relay throw and the Dominican Republic won the around the horn relay.
Venice and Harrisburg will face each other in Sunday's senior division championship game at Target Field. Los Angeles and the Dominican Republic play in the junior division title game.
"You're all winners," Winfield said. "You demonstrated a lot of skill and a lot of dedication to come this far."
Brian Hall is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.