Reggie Whittemore is one of five finalists for GQ's Man of the Year award, and it has nothing to do with his fashion sense.
"I don't usually have enough time for me to get that GQ style going," said Whittemore, laughing. "But I do what I've got to do."
Whittemore's time is scarce because of the long hours he puts in as executive director of the Nashville RBI (Reviving Baseball in the Inner Cities) program. It is for his tireless efforts in this capacity that he is in the running for the prestigious "Man of the Year" honor in the "Local Heroes" category. Whittemore is one of five good Samaritans who have been nominated for this honor, which is currently being determined through a vote on GQ's website.
"I had no idea that something like this was coming, but I look at it as a great way to spread the word about the RBI program," he said. "I'm really excited about it, and it just goes to show that you never know what may come knocking on your door."
RBI Baseball is a national initiative that was founded in 1989, with the mission of promoting the sport of baseball among disadvantaged youth in urban areas. Whittemore founded Nashville's RBI program in 1996, but he has been deeply committed to baseball throughout his entire life. A Nashville native, Whittemore led local Lipscomb University to state championships in 1977 and '79 before being drafted by the Boston Red Sox. He then spent the next nine years playing professional baseball, including three seasons in the Triple-A International League.
"I had Carl Yastrzemski and Ted Williams as hitting instructors in 1983 and played alongside guys like Jim Rice in Spring Training," he said. "Now I can use stories like that to my advantage. I want people to get excited about the RBI program, to get more kids involved on the field and more corporations on board as sponsors."
Whittemore's involvement in the RBI program came about as an extension of his work with the Nashville Boys and Girls Club, where he worked as a director. For several years he served in dual roles with both Boys and Girls and RBI, until the latter program became a full-time job in and of itself.
"We had 60 kids when we first started, and since then we've watched it grow to 100 to 150 to 300 to 400 and now we're just busting out at the seams -- over 1,300 kids are now a part of Nashville RBI," said Whittemore. "Eventually, I'd like to see 5,000 kids in the program."
It is this sort of enthusiasm and energy that led Andrew Maraniss to nominate Whittemore for GQ's "Man of the Year." Maraniss works for MP&F, a Nashville public relations firm that for the past decade has done pro bono work on behalf of the RBI program.
"Reggie is out there every day, driving the kids to practice, coaching one of the teams, umpiring and flipping burgers in the concession stand. This guy just does it all, and he has dedicated his whole life to RBI," said Maraniss.
Not surprisingly, Whittemore has many supporters within the community. The Pacific Coast League's Nashville Sounds, who are one of the primary sponsors of Nashville RBI, are chief among them.
"The program has grown from where it was to where it's at now because of the work he has put into it," said Sounds executive director of business operations Brandon Vonderhaar. "We'll recognize him at a game next year just for being nominated, and hopefully he'll win the whole thing."
Whittemore, meanwhile, is pragmatic about the nomination. The way he sees it, the exposure he has received from GQ will only help to further his mission.
"I'd like to one day have an academy, so that all the kids could come together in one big building with indoor batting cages and classrooms," he said. "And I'm hoping that the RBI regional tournament will be held here. Nashville may not be a Major League town, but people love coming here and it would do us a lot of good."
No matter what happens, it's a given that Whittemore will continue to work tirelessly for Nashville's youth.
"The main thing is getting kids involved in this game and giving them something positive and constructive to do," he said. "It's all about the kids and about being part of something good. I hope that the exposure we're getting now will help to push us over the top."
Benjamin Hill is a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues or its clubs.