One person's thoughts may change the world
There are many baseball leagues out there. T-ball, coach’s pitch, kid pitch, house leagues, travel leagues, tournament leagues, etc. But, there is also another league out there, an unspoken one and unknown to mainstream baseball parents. It exists not by competition, but, rather the lack of participation. It exists because there are still a few parents out there who love the game, want their kids to succeed despite preconceived notions about their approach to the game and their athletic prowess. The league I’m referring to is “The Jackie Robinson Baseball League”.
You will not find this name on any website. It doesn’t recruit players. This league belongs to a very special breed of kid, as well as parents of that child, one to which has to engage in training, working hard, batting cage practice, learning different position, pitching, hitting off the “T”, fall ball, winter training and…. of BEING THE ONLY BLACK PERSON ON HIS BASEBALL TEAM.
This doesn’t apply only to baseball. It can apply to other sports as well, such as hockey, tennis, golf, competitive cheer, or any sport that usually has only one African-American on its team. I could speak to other sports as well as I talk about this, because there are similar reasons this phenomenon occurs in many of these sports, but my focus is purely on baseball. Now don’t get me wrong, there are plenty of all black baseball teams as well as integrated baseball teams out there, somewhere. But, what I’m finding, especially amongst other African-American parents who have supported their son through the baseball process, and I call it a “process” because in some ways it’s no longer fun.
This process is not by design at least to my knowledge or, perhaps it is and I’m just to naïve or ignorant to see it. Although I will point out there are differences that these special breed of African-American kids have to deal with, it mainly comes from a change in society, and it’s many subtle shades on how kids interact, how coaches view them, and finally the cost to play sports. Sports, at one time was an integral part of social and physical development for school children. It cost little or nothing, and, kids got to burn off an unused bounty of energy.
The sport of baseball has evolved into a game of specialized athletes, dictated by their parents, who came of in an era that doesn’t exist anymore. Gone are the days of pickup baseball, and empty ball parks abound everywhere in anywhere USA. There was a time where kids just played for fun on lazy Saturdays and Sundays after church, but that’s a rare event these days. These parks may fill up when tournament time or a regular game is played, but the good old baseball field goes unused during spring and summer, prime baseball time. Kids are now “trained” to play baseball and are very, very specialized. Those who manage these teams hardly coach, because they are mostly parents, trying to get their kids the advantage and have already sent their kid to “training”. Simply put, all this boils down to money when it comes to training and joining a team. And, trust me it’s expensive.
Training is very, very important. Many black families don’t see this as a necessary evil when they send their kid out there on the baseball field. Many assume the coach will help their child along to understand the game, and have some fun. That may be true in T-ball, but, it all changes once your son has graduated to coaches pitch. Learning how to hit and field the ball is the responsibility of the parent, not the coach. If you’re black, and trust me I have seen this, many of these white coaches/parents assume you already have acquired these skills when you came out of the womb. If they see your kid needs coaching, they immediately fault the parent, for not trying to work with their son to get better.
Typically these parents (black parents), who don’t understand this process; soon get tired of the great game of baseball. A huge fall off of parents occurs, and soon, your son joins the Jackie Robinson League of baseball by default. He will normally be the only African-American on his team, as well as any all-star and travel or tournament team he plays on. But, unlike Jackie, it’s not at the exclusion of the majority players and parents; it’s the lack of funding, and effort by the parents in the sport. The cost of going to the batting cage, bats, cleats, gloves, batting gloves let alone going out to the field and practicing with your son is expensive, time-consuming, and daunting. And if you get through all of that, the next step is to “find” a travel team for your son to play on, so he can get plenty of baseball throughout the summer. Again, those leagues are time-consuming and expensive. And hey, all this is going on while you’re working out and getting ready for your next sport, which is usually football. If you don’t play travel or tournament baseball, your son’s baseball “career” is essentially over at the high school level.
The great New York Yankee and baseball hall of fame David Winfield also spoke to this saying that there will be an absence of black baseball players in major league baseball if the trend continues. It may be true, but there also may be come enlightenment by African-American parents to assist their children in playing the great American sport of baseball. In the meantime, I’ll be out there, throwing, catching, going to batting cages, buying shoes, buying balls, buying bats, standing behind the baseball diamond yelling, “Hug the plate, don’t give him anything to throw at, and…. Hit the ball!”…..