Bring 'em Home

The Yankees signed Marcus Thames this month to a minor league deal. It's a return home for the 1996 draftee. He is one of 80 players to hit a HR in his first AB. All I know about him besides that is that he's there because they decided to let Johnny D, and his awesome stroke to right field walk and he's named after a british river. But if Johnny had to go I'm ok with it if this is the result. We all know Mr. Damon is happier when he doesn't have to shave, and more importantly it means a roster spot for another Black player in the MLB. There has been a sharp decline in participation by African American youth is baseball over the past few decades as the likes of Ozzie Smith and Dave Winfield have faded into the background. Economics coupled with a lack of good role models is what I think is at the heart of this issue. I myself came to love the sport in a backwards way.
My father openly lobbied against it. Many many times I heard that baseball players were all fat and slow. With only 8.4% of current players fitting the Black/Non-Hispanic definition I couldn't very well pick a name off the top of my head to contradict this point, though now Torri Hunter, Carl Crawford, Jermaine Dye, Dontrelle Willis, The Uptons, and of course CC, come to mind without much thought. The problem is that I can name the teams these fellas play for but I feel that even among baseball fans I may be in the minority (no puns). And if a fan could name the team I'm sure it has more to do with the fact they stand out amongst their teamates than because they're actually big named stars.
Major League Baseball is aware of this and has implemented the RBI program which is aimed at Restoring Baseball in Inner cities. A big problem with baseball in inner cities is the lack of viable fields on which to play. With little in the way of role models on top of that, there is almost no drive to get kids to seek out such places. The founder of this program discovered that kids tend to quit baseball right between the ages of 13-16. (It will become obvious why a little further down.) Sponsors, fields, and lack of organization aren't even the first obstacles they will face, as even the youth who do play baseball are dissuaded come high school athletics. College football teams carry 85 full scholarships. Often this is broken up so that 80 or so guys can have a full ride, while 10 or so guys still share a split of some sort. No other sport comes even close to providing that many opportunities. Baseball and basketball combined don't carry 35 let alone 85 scholarshipped athletes.
The question comes down to this. If you are a talented 13 year old who is starting his or her freshman year of highschool and you can only play one sport because of time and financial concerns...which do you pick. A college basketball team seems like good choice but baseball allows you to go to school AND get paid. Also top flight baseball prospects rarely see the inside of lecture halls and head straight to the minors for a cash bonus up front. Good basketball players more and more are heading to the NBA at a faster rate so the turnover of roster spots is much higher at some elite schools. Yet football has so many roster spots that it seems almost ludicrous to take a risk putting all your eggs into one basket with one of the other two big sports.
As games go, an intense baseball game is far more exciting than any other in my opinion. The slow pace is more of a suspenseful linger in my opinion but that is neither here nor there. It is my hope that one day I can make a fortune in whatever turns out to be my calling and help support programs like RBI. Time will tell whether or not CC Sabathia being the Ace of a World Champion staff will lead to higher sustained participation. In the mean time we need to find a way to co-opt this guy more for his membership in the culture. It's guys like that who kept me interested in the game and gave me someone to root for both on the field and off.

Pitchers and catcher reported last wednesday. Lets hope CC does it again! Last year he was not only the only black player in the bullpen but also the ONLY black player on the team...Unless you count Jete' and midseason acquisition Jerry Hairston who together combine for one more. Shouts to my man Jason Mayden at Brand Jordan for keeping CC laced in the flyest of the fly. Octavio Lubrano and DJ keep coming with the heat!

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