Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Why Is Baseball Striking out in the Black Community?

Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Why Is Baseball Striking out in the Black Community?

Article excerpt

At a pee-wee football team practice in my neighborhood -- before Hurricane Sandy turned the field into a lake -- I stood on the sidelines with coaches talking about ... baseball. We'd noticed that the field didn't have a baseball backstop, only football goal posts, which set off an impromptu memorial for the death of baseball in the black community.

"Remember when every sport had its own season, and we played them all?" said Antonio Maffett, coach of the Fort Washington Stallions football team in Prince George's County, Md. "We'd play baseball anywhere -- vacant lots, streets, alleys -- and we'd use broomstick handles and socks wrapped in twine."

Not even the Washington Nationals' successful season had rekindled much interest in the game. As for the World Series, our kids were more likely to think World Series of Poker than baseball.

So what happened? If the answer is that black people simply prefer basketball and football more than baseball, as a Washington Post poll found last year, so be it. But if a sport that is so quintessentially American -- one that includes Jackie Robinson's historic breaking of the color line back in 1947 -- lacks black participation because of poor facilities and a lack of support, then something ought to be done to change that.

African American players in Major League Baseball dropped to 8 percent this past season, down from 27 percent in 1975, according to a study by USA Today earlier this year. At least 10 teams started the season with no more than one black player.

But the problems obviously started long before the first pitch.

"One of the problems is that we don't devote enough resources to the sport," said Tony Davenport, coach of the Fort Washington Canons, Md., youth baseball team. "We have camps for football and basketball year-round to develop those skills, but rarely do we get any information about baseball camps. We also have a devil of a time getting the county to drag the playing field, smooth it out. Once football practice begins, the field gets so chewed up that our opponents refuse to play on it."

To jump-start interest in the sport, the county needs to support volunteers such as Mr. Davenport -- keep the baseball fields playable, and spring for some batting cages and pitching machines.

The second problem, one not as easily fixed, was cited by Gerald Hall Jr., director of baseball operations for the Woodridge Warriors in the District of Columbia.

"If you did a survey, I believe you'd find that the one thing average and above-average players have in common is a father," he said. …

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