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Blacks will always play ball

By Jeffery Armstrong

I was watching ESPN last night and the sports program Outside the Lines came on and I saw something really interesting.

The subject of the program was the lack of African-American players in the game of baseball. I was almost asleep when this program first came on, but after I heard the subject matter, I perked up. The lack of black players in baseball? That doesn't make sense – or does it?

Now if you've read my columns recently, you readers know that baseball was a big part of my youth, especially as a youngster living in New York. I couldn't imagine doing anything else but playing baseball every day. I was a huge Yankees fan and loved going to Yankee Stadium with my Costa Rican godmother and my godbrothers, cheering the Yanks to victory. All the guys I played baseball with in my youth were black and all of them loved baseball as well.

I guess that is not the case these days, especially for me. I am no fan of pro baseball anymore and that's been documented. Labor problems, the same losing teams every year, etc., are reasons I don't like it. It still is a great game to play, however, so I don't begrudge any black kid for playing it.

The Outside the Lines program last night interviewed black major leaguers like Brian Jordan of the L.A. Dodgers and Torii Hunter of the Minnesota Twins, who lamented the fact that young black kids don't look at baseball the same way they did years ago.

Two black high school athletes from California were interviewed during last night's piece and they both trashed the game of baseball. They both play football and basketball and said there's more action in those sports than in baseball.

One of the Fremont guys said something even more interesting. He said that not only is pro baseball boring, there are too many levels to advance through before making "The Show." He said guys could play 10 years and still be stuck in the minors.

To me, that was a negative statement. It seems to me that a lot of black youth want instant gratification – they want everything right now. Baseball is not always set in stone. Look at Dontrelle Willis of the Florida Marlins: he advanced to Class AA before making the majors. If you're very good, you can advance in less than 10 years like Willis did.

The ESPN piece didn't interview any black kids who actually play baseball in high school to hear what they had to say. That would've made the piece much better, in my opinion.

I have covered youth league baseball for two years now as a member of the Daily staff and I have seen plenty of black kids play baseball. In fact, DeKalb County's Gresham Park teams win tournaments in every age group every year and they're all black.

So there are some black youths who actually like the game. As they grow and mature, their talents may gravitate toward basketball, football or another sport. The ones who have baseball skills will stick with it, for sure. They may not increase the numbers of blacks in the majors (it's reported to be at 10 percent), but as long as they are good enough to play, black players will definitely be in the Show.

Jeffery Armstrong is a sports reporter for the Daily and his column appears on Thursdays. He can be reached at jarmstrong@news-daily.com.