Ballplayers from Chicago might have done what Major Leaguers haven't: Stoked interest in America’s pastime.
Our little “Boys of Summer” left an emerald field Saturday in the Great Lakes Regional Tournament of the Little League World Series in disappointment. Their quest for a berth in the most celebrated tournament for youth sports ended in a 10-3 loss to a team from Grosse Pointe Woods-Shores, Michigan.
It might be easy to just give their loss an “Oh, well …” and move on to the next story about adolescent athletes. But you can’t easily do so with coach Bill Haley’s all-Black team from Chicago’s South Side.
The 12 boys on the Jackie Robinson West LL team had a larger mission than most teams who seek a trip each summer to Williamsport, Pennsylvania, site of the Little League World Series. No, the boys on the Jackie Robinson team were dragging their people along with them.
Interest among Blacks in baseball has been flagging since the 1980s, a point Major League Baseball acknowledges. An all-Black team would have been an instant hit in tiny Williamsport and a story with national appeal.
Not that anybody might have been rooting against the boys on the Grosse Pointe Woods-Shore team, but they would have been just another suburban team that made the Little League tournament, which brings teams in from as far away as Australia and Taiwan.
But Jackie Robinson West, well, the boys on that team would have been the face of youth baseball for Black communities across the United States. These boys would have given Blacks a rooting interest in a tournament that has become a hit on ESPN and ABC each year.
The boys would have given Major League Baseball the exposure it needs to revive the sport in urban centers. The sport didn’t get that bump it longed for, which is a pity for those of us who see baseball as an elegant game, a game of chess played on grass – a game where the anticipation of something grand is there on every pitch, on every play, a game that isn’t dull but filled with tension and emotion.
Those who play baseball see it as such.
Dull? The boys from Chicago’s South Side do not know that word, not in connection with baseball.
For people who saw the Chicago team play, for people who followed its journey through the long, grinding regional tournament, the loss saddened them as much as much as it saddened the boys on the field.
Yet in the loss, the boys came away with lessons. Maybe they didn’t see their trek as anything beyond the present, as a journey absent a larger context, but they did discover how daunting the road to a championship is; they learned, too, how far hard work and grit can take them, even if, in this instance, it didn’t take the team to a title.
The boys have no reason, however, to carry their disappointment deep into their lives. Nor should the boys from Chicago feel as if they let others down. They didn’t ask to become a symbol of what baseball should be in the Black community; they were just boys playing a boys’ game – and playing it well.
For that, they deserve cheers, and for those of us who see baseball as a noble game, we should sit and weigh what we can do to find Black boys elsewhere who want to revive baseball in their communities, Black boys who want to take their team beyond a regional and to the Little League championship.
The opinions expressed here do not necessarily reflect those of BET Networks.
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(Photo: JIM YOUNG/LANDOV)