I know everyone, like myself, cheered on the Jackie Robinson West (JRW) Little League baseball team. I watched their initial loss to Las Vegas and saw their nervousness. But a week later they were back with a vengeance. As I listened to people profess their surprise that baseball could be so popular among young black children, I screamed at the screen that kids would play it if the park district offered it.
I remember when my son was 5 and I signed him up to play PeeWee Little League at LaFollette Park. I met many good friends who I otherwise wouldn’t have gotten to know as we shared the experience of our children learning to play ball. I will forever be grateful to Coach Calvin Jackson who volunteered his time to teach the children the game, sportsmanship and, most important, how to play as a team.
My son played for four years and then it seemed that the park district wasn’t interested in baseball for children. So using the excuse that the park district has perfected, they didn’t have anyone to run the program, so it ceased to be offered.
My contention, then and now, is that seeing children play baseball in the summer is a sign of normalcy. Whether it’s your child playing or just an interesting game, it was a time to go to the park, network with neighbors, and see the children play. I will never forget the first time someone from my son’s team hit the ball and the entire opposing team ran to the outfield to retrieve the ball.
I hope the JRW team’s win inspires parents to get off their duff and demand Little League team play again. In Austin, we have enough children and lots of land for sport teams to give every child the chance to play.
We also have to be creative. One of the teams that played when my son played was coached by two men who stopped imbibing long enough to be the best coaches for those children. They never hollered or cussed. They never drank in front of them. Instead they had patience to deal with children and were there for them at every game.
One of my friends, Ziff Sistrunk runs the Kirby Puckett Little League teams. Just like JRW, it is filled with children who love the sport of baseball. As we introduce our children to playing baseball, that sport becomes an additional mechanism for children to earn college scholarships, a chance for them to be off the street, and, most important of all, nurture friendships that are based on positive team interactions. The same sort of camaraderie they look for in street gangs — the need to belong. But with baseball, it will be positive team relationships.
I hope advertisers utilize the team in some positive ways. I don’t eat breakfast cereal, but I will spend the money to see the team on a box of corn flakes or Cheerios. They should get enough endorsements to have trust funds and money for their higher education.
While the city is giving them a parade, what Chicagoans can truly do for those children is to stop the violence so that young boys have a safe city in which to play ball.