Today’s Delaware County Daily Times sports page has an article that features former Philadelphia Phillies All-Star Jimmy Rollins talking about some of the reasons why there are so few blacks in baseball. He boils it down to limited exposure and marketing of black players in baseball while sharing how the lack of marketing black excellence isn’t germane to just baseball.
Rollins also attributed the decline of Black players in baseball to socioeconomic factors. That wasn’t as much the case when I played little league baseball. Back then, all we needed was a baseball glove and a pair of spikes that may have combined to cost $50. The teams provided the bats and balls and maybe there was a small fee to join the league. Today, you can find a kids glove and a pair of spikes for under $30 each but a decent big-boy glove and spikes is going to approach $100 each. Players are encouraged to provide their own bats which adds another $100 for a metal bat. Throw in another $20 for batting gloves and $50 for a gear bag and you have the basic ingredients a baseball player is required to have in most circumstances.
Baseball fields are so very prissy. They only work well when their grass is cut low and often; when the dirt sections are free of stones and smoothed out on a near daily basis; when the pitching mound is at the perfect height and has the right rubber in the right location; and when home plate is level with the ground and pointing in the right direction. All that costs money, too. When I ride around Chester and see the neglect of our baseball fields, it’s a reminder of another old tradition that has passed us by.
I recently had the pleasure of joining a new Delaware County authority (Delaware County Interactive Gaming Revenue Authority) with four other board members. I already knew Doreen Storey and Frances Sheehan. I didn’t know the two guys, Ronald Evans or Paul K. Johnson. Coincidentally, Paul has a long connection to blacks in baseball and is head founder/general manager/head coach of the the Philly Area Black Sox Baseball Team which is a grassroots, instructional, recreational, and competitive amateur baseball team for players aged 16-19.
Just yesterday we were talking about black youth involvement in baseball and I shared my story of how I got off the baseball bandwagon at about the age of 15 when it became difficult to play in the teen league because of all the travel around Delco. I wasn’t driving yet and dad, who supported me all through little league, got busy with his fraternal life and didn’t have the time to chauffeur me around. I did pick up the glove again my senior year at Chester High and it was one of the biggest thrills of my life playing again with a lot of guys I played with in little league.
Rollins says…“Also, you look at how baseball’s traditionally passed down from the dad to son. If your father isn’t around, the chances of you being exposed to baseball because it’s more of a team sport, it’s probably less likely to happen.”
In my opinion, there are fewer blacks playing baseball in the big leagues because the feeder system is so depleted. Neighborhood youth baseball leagues are declining due to the lack of funds to maintain baseball fields, the expense of maintaining a league, the cost of equipment, the lack of exposure to the stars, and generations of dads never having played the game and can’t pass the experience of playing baseball to their sons.
In a lot of areas, the unused baseball fields are prime locations for residential and commercial development. Chester is unique to have almost all of the former playing fields remain as open space.
To reimagine Chester as a youth baseball mecca would be amazing for guys like Paul and I who just love the game.