It may be because baseball season is right around the corner. It may be because I’m the assistant baseball coach for my high school’s team. It may be because said high school has a student body composed entirely of African-Americans. Whatever the case, there were a series of issues I thought of in the middle of the night as I ended my teaching week and began this long weekend.
As many of you know by now, the Jackie Robinson West team was stripped of its United States Little League World Series Championship earlier this week. I won’t really get into the politics or other factors here because honestly, I’m just bummed out that the kids who played on the team had to deal with it too. But even more importantly, Jackie Robinson West represented one of many bright spots in the Little League Urban Initiative, which helps underrepresented minorities get into and excel at the game of baseball. It’s a fact not lost on some of MLB’s biggest stars:
”I know when I was a kid, I wanted my family to be there to support me and see me play,” Justin Upton said. ”I thought it would be cool for them to see the experience with the kids.
”It’s good to see young African-American kids playing and having a team full of young kids enjoying the game. Hopefully, it can be something that makes them think ‘I’d like to play on that stage, so maybe I should pursue baseball.”’
Even before I knew that Jackie Robinson West was a thing, I thought about trying to afford more opportunities to African-American kids to get superb athletes into baseball. Unfortunately my fledgling #Whiff campaign didn’t do so well since folks didn’t feel like tweeting the hashtag, but whatcha gonna do? Anyway, the Chicago Cubs are certainly doing their part to help out, as in addition to their paid summer camps (I didn’t feel like sitting through the questionnaire to find out how much it cost, but I’ll bet it’s expensive), they also support RBI programs in the city.
While RBI is a good program and is certainly helping with the involvement of black kids in the sport, it’s still unfortunate that these kids don’t get the same resources and exposure as more affluent kids do. This is illustrated splendidly by Pittsburgh Pirates All-Star and MVP Andrew McCutchen:
Many low-income kids don’t have the option of going to college to develop their game and get an education. They have to roll the dice by entering the MLB draft. I had the good fortune to be drafted by the Pirates in the first round, but I spent four years in the glamorous towns of Williamsport, Hickory, Altoona and Indianapolis. A lot of talented kids look at that lifestyle and compare it to the bright lights of Florida State or Ohio State, and they think, “Okay, I could get a free college education and be on ESPN, or I could spend five years eating cereal for dinner and trying to hit a 90-mile-per-hour fastball in Altoona.”
McCutchen does an excellent job explaining the calculus a black kid and his family have to make in order to forgo a more enticing scholarship opportunity with the harsh realities of development as a professional baseball player. In his story, McCutchen may have stumbled upon a new market inefficiency right here in our own country roads:
If you’re a talented kid in the Dominican Republic or Puerto Rico, a team can come along and say, “We’re going to sign you for $50,000 and take you into our organization and develop you, feed you, take care of your travel.” To me, as a 14-year-old kid whose family was struggling, that would have meant everything to me. I would have taken that deal in a second.
It’s very late and I may have to wake up more before I can flesh out this idea, but the initial spark is…if a professional baseball team (i.e. the Cubs) is willing to build a facility in the Dominican Republic and send scouts to Asia and the rest of Latin America to sign the next great player, why can’t they shave a few miles off their trip and find those black kids playing in some back field and basically do the same thing–but at home in the US of A?
There are a number of factors I can think of in the cost of expanding scouting domestically for what could be an untapped resource. Additionally, there is some cost in the effort to convince black kids with loads of athletic talent, but no outlet to use it just yet, to focus their attention on baseball instead of other sports. But it only really takes one team to give it a try. Then as a wave of superb African-American baseball players emerges again, the floodgates will open as the next generation of black kids look upon these players as heroes and pick up a glove and a bat.
I think it’s worth a shot. Let’s see if MLB ball clubs agree.