ANNAPOLIS, Md. — “We play for championships” is the four-word slogan and rally cry for the Maryland RBI 19U advanced skills development team associated with the Ruth’s Baseball Ideals (RBI) Baseball Club.
Assembling under-the-radar talent over a 7-year period built Maryland RBI into a Mid-Atlantic States regional brand with national profile, winning a record three consecutive Maryland AAU State Championships (2012, ’13, ’14) and earning a Maryland AAU record-setting number of five consecutive AAU National Championships invitation-only or automatic bids.
In that span, Maryland RBI has won 215 games and set the standard for excellence for AAU Baseball in Maryland, including one appearance in the AAU National Championships, finishing #5 in the nation (’13).
The run transformed the team itself into “Maryland RBI” and one of the Maryland, Washington DC, and Virginia region’s leaders in year round advanced skills development, turning many of its players into college recruiting commodities.
“For these young men, maybe 20-30 years down the road, they will look back at the privilege they had of playing baseball for Maryland RBI and remember these times fondly,” said Manager Mike Graham.
“What they have done and are doing and achieving today in the sport, it will define and reinforce a large part of their personal makeup forever—a significant source of the self-confidence and leadership they will take with them through life.”
The tradition of excellence the Maryland RBI coaching staff has built would put pressure on many teams, but it is welcomed by Graham.
“We enjoy the weight of expectation that drives this baseball team” Graham said. “We approach things very differently here. Motivation is easy when you are at the bottom because the only way to go is up. However, there are expectations that come with wearing the Red, White and Blue of Maryland RBI Baseball.
“This team of players and staff, its parents and heck even the grandparents expect to achieve,” said Graham. “If you don’t have a higher goal in mind for yourself in this sport and life, this is probably not the team for you. There are other options out there that are a better fit. Our players’ job is to perform academically, go to college, stay focused and on track, and honor the traditions of this team’s foundation, which is to be committed, honor the sport, and play hard and play the entire game.”
Maryland RBI is coming off its winningest year ever (34-12, .739 pct.) since the team first assembled in 2009. Last year coaches Mike Graham, Chris Cummings, Jim Hoyer, Ray Albaugh, and Jerry Gamblin were named the Maryland AAU Baseball Coaching Staff of the Year. Coach Cummings was named Maryland AAU Baseball Coach of the Year, while Graham entered the Maryland AAU Hall of Fame.
“It is easy to become a victim of success, become lazy and complacent, and muddle along,” Graham said. “But we built this team’s operation from the ground up from when some of the current players were 11 years old, and with the RBI Baseball Club and AAU support playing a large part we have grown this into an anticipation each year for playing quality baseball and winning baseball in a national brand. We have great, quality young men who understand and accept our goals and mission and who bring a lot of energy and excitement.”
This year’s team is more in numbers in order to allow players to have summer jobs and accommodate family commitments.
“Under that scenario, most coaches are just looking to field a team, but we are always ready to compete and challenge the natural order of things,” said Graham. “Maryland RBI has answered the call every year since 2010. The way travel teams come and go—here today, gone tomorrow—it’s impressive we’re still here.”
Overall the team is a collection of players that Coach Graham describes as “athletic” and committed to the ideal of baseball as a tool to better themselves for life and create opportunities for themselves downstream.
“We work a lot in the winter to generate bat power and speed,” Graham explained. “We generally are not physically big—we have a couple of beasts and some long, rangy types—but we are athletic, have some speed and explosiveness.”
“We think we’re going to have another good year, but this team doesn’t have any superstars or standouts,” Graham said. “It has guys with egos that are under control, team players with a go to work type of attitude and who have their act together. They’re a bunch of hard working guys that are one, look out for each other and are not just a collection of it’s-all-about-me types of individuals.”
This year’s Maryland RBI schedule includes playing both 19U and 24U/collegiate teams. “There’s no easy road to a ‘ship in ‘the U,’” Graham said. “Playing in the Amateur Athletic Union is an honor and privilege.”
He said the staff never expects to go undefeated in league play but has come close before and always places the team goal on getting better.
“It’s that simple and never about going 16-0 in league play,” Graham said. “Get real—this is baseball. It’s about handling the grind and rollercoaster ride of the season, showing up and being present in life, sacrificing and doing your part, and staying committed to the team’s purpose of advanced skills development and constantly striving for excellence. Take care of that and everything else takes care of itself.”