The Story of RBI Wales

How did we get where we are?

In 2012, Holly Ireland, captain of the Cardiff Red Sox and Chairman of the ‘Diffodil tournament committee, started thinking about how to get children involved in the sport of softball. She worked full time, and had two children, so the thinking was mainly done in that minute and a half of free time full-time working mothers get before falling to sleep.

After successfully running the first Wales national softball tournament with teammates, Holly turned to her teammate and said, “the next project is…a kids’ program!”

In 2013, Holly, while playing under Rhian Welch, the Manager of the Wales Team, said to Rhian, “I really want to build a training centre in Wales.”

In 2016, Holly decided that she would reach out to Mark Munnery, former Cardiff League Head and member of the British Softball Federation (UK softball’s governing body), and ask his advice on moving the project forward. He gave her advice, pointed her in a few directions, including the contact of Andy Gardner, neighbourhood sport activator at Sport Cardiff.

Andy was able to contact schools on Holly’s behalf, and soon Cantonian High School, Willows High School, Ysgol Gyfun Gymraeg Plasmawr (Plasmawr High School) and Ysgol Gyfun Gymraeg Glantaf (Glantaf High School) were having taster sessions. Cantonian and Glantaf also had after school clubs, while Plasmawr school opted for lunchtime sessions.

In the meantime, she was contacted by the BSF, who’d been asked by a Lisa Lawrence, a teacher in Ysgol Deri, about doing some taster sessions in their Special Education school. Holly and colleague Sarah Pike, a friend who was a GB coach, gave a series of taster sessions to, and organised a kit package for, the school.

Holly decided it was time to create South Wales Youth Baseball & Softball, giving a branding to something that was fully underway. The organisation was created with the aim of delivering softball & baseball training to young people in Wales.

That summer (2016), in the last week of school term, Holly contacted Andy again to ask for help in coordinating a tournament among the three schools with active sessions. Cantonian and Plasmawr brought teams down, and Glantaf brought down two teams. It was a lovely day of youth softball. Holly and Sarah were helped by Andy and Hannah from Sport Cardiff, as well as Mark Munnery, with Sean Gostage coming over from Bristol to provide umpiring duties.

Work situations arose, preventing Holly from doing any sessions in 2017, until the very end of the year when an opportunity arose for Holly to do part-time work, and focus much more time on building up the organisation.

She reached out again to Andy Gardner, who helped her get the word out to schools. Plasmawr school were very happy to start sessions again, starting back up in 2018. Bishop of Llandaff school also took advantage of the taster sessions in early spring of 2018. There was a great enthusiasm during the taster sessions, but getting the kids out to after school sessions proved difficult.

Holly ran sessions at Bishop and Plasmawr through the winter, indoors, to keep the interest up, and to continue building the skills of the attendees. The sessions at a school tend to start with a couple of kids, and eventually reach numbers of a full team.

Meanwhile, Ben Kwiatkowski was playing in the Cardiff Softball League, observing children of players on the side of the pitch, and wondered what was available for them. 

On March 19, 2018, Ben messaged Holly about setting up a Little League. She knew he was involved in building the baseball community in Cardiff, but when he mentioned ‘Little League’, he suddenly had her full attention. Holly and Ben began to meet up to talk about getting youth ball moving more in Cardiff.

That summer, they delivered a community youth baseball & softball series in Llandaff fields. The first week, there were three kids, but by the end of the series, they had over 20 kids showing up to play the sport. This was helped a lot by their involvement in Street Games, which ran the second week of the series. They ran a stall in this event which allowed hundreds of kids from all over south Wales to have a go at throwing, catching and hitting a ball. They all enjoyed it, with many asking for it to be in their school.

In November 2018, Ben and Holly decided it was time to create a team to represent Cardiff. They created the Cardiff City Under 18s Baseball and Cardiff City Under 18s Softball teams, and invited kids to come train. As of March, 25 kids are on the roster across the teams.

They trained through the winter in the Airdome at Leckwith stadium, through the kindness of Cardiff City House of Sport, who gave them a few ‘try it out’ sessions. After that ended, it was time to go back outside, so March 2, 2019, they went to their future, Cardiff City Council allocated ground at Pontcanna Fields, next to the Blackweir bridge.

That week, the council officially marked out a pitch for them to train on.

In April 2019 the softball team played Archway school, in Stroud, in their first inter city game. Next, they are trying to get a game with Monmouth school.

Meanwhile, Ben got South Wales Youth Baseball & Softball affiliated with RBI and became RBI Wales.

In late 2018, St Cyres school also started having school sessions. These sessions ran through the winter indoors; outdoor sessions began in mid-February 2019.

During the summer term, Howell’s school, Stanwell School, Mary Immaculate school and St Cenydd’s Community school also signed up for after school session, and Cantonian High School signed up for lunchtime lessons.

RBI Wales also started working with Grangetown Baptist Church Youth Group, providing sessions at the Marl on a Tuesday evening.

Summer sessions were also back on the cards as of June 2019, with Monday, Tuesday baseball sessions and a Thursday softball session, at Llandaf fields in Cardiff.

Where are we going?

Our goal is to create youth leagues in Wales and a training facility in Cardiff, so that kids in Wales can have the opportunities to play baseball and softball that children in England have.

We will be building on our current school provision, creating school fixtures across five schools.

We will be building on our summer and out-of-term provision, creating youth clubs and league fixtures.

We will be continuing to provide an environment where children feel valued and have another avenue of achieving their potential without barriers of any sort.

What do we care about?

RBI Wales provides a very accessible game to young people. Anyone can play the game. RBI Wales promotes academic focus. All RBI participants are highly encouraged to focus on their studies. Although traditionally, baseball and softball follow gender guidelines, RBI Wales encourages participants to play the game they want – if a participant wants to play baseball, they are encouraged to do so regardless of gender. The same is true for softball.

RBI Wales promotes:

  • Teamwork
  • Inclusion
  • Physical fitness
  • Respect
  • Positivity

Okay fine, but what *is* softball?

Ah. Yes. Softball is merely the version of the American brand of baseball where the pitch (the throw to the batter) is delivered either underarm (slowpitch), or with a windmill motion (fastpitch). The ball is slightly larger than a baseball, but it is not ‘soft’.

So why is it called “softball”?

According to Wikipedia, the very first softball game was played with a rolled-up boxing glove as a ball! The game evolved over the years such that the ball is no longer soft, but the game retained the name.