Last night, I watched Curtis Granderson play centerfield for the New York Yankees. He saved his team with spectacular catches, using the grace and balance of a Willie Mays. His 2 spectacular catches helped the Yankees stave off elimination and force a game 5 back in the Bronx.
Granderson is one of a few African-Americans who currently play major league baseball. By all accounts the percentage of African-Americans playing major league baseball has been on a steady decline to numbers now reminiscent of the days shortly after Jackie Robinson integrated the game.
My preference here is to not fuel the cynicism as to why this decline has occurred. Instead, I would prefer to reflect on my own glory days as a New York Yankee, wearing the gray pinstripes. I came into the Collinwood Little League at 6 years old, as a Bat Boy for the Philadelphia Phillies. I joined the Phillies the following year as a pitcher and catcher. After winning a championship with the Phillies and reaching the requisite age of 12, I was promoted to the major league, where I was drafted by the New York Yankees.
Much like the real Bronx Bombers, the New York Yankees of the Collinwood Little League were a dominant force, winning 3 consecutive major league championships. My folks would keep all of my local newspaper clippings, highlighting my home runs, or pitching shutouts. They also kept all of my trophies, which I still have at 52 years old.
There was the winter raffle ticket sales, clean up day in the spring when the whole neighborhood would come together and give Lindsey Wire Field fresh paint, fresh landscaping, and fence or dugout repairs. There was the opening day parade and game. The All Star Game played against the Northeast Little League All Stars. The annual Awards Banquet and managers like Earl Conway Sr., who served as examples of appropriate manhood.
Major League Baseball, with the urging of African-American superstars like Joe Morgan, started some years ago the RBI (Reviving Baseball In Inner Cities) Program. The RBI Program touts programs in more than 200 cities worldwide that provide more than 200,000 boys and girls the opportunity to play baseball and softball. Yet, there is no more little league baseball in my old neighborhood, only unsteady rims and chain link nets at each end of a concrete or asphalt basketball court.
I hope that the multi billion dollar industry will continue its efforts and do so much more.
Baseball is a cerebral game that has numerous complex situations that require analysis after each pitch. It is a game that can be played for a lot of years and be very lucrative to its talented players.
I wonder what would happen to inner city kids if the experienced the pride and self esteem that I experienced when it was time for my annual trip with Uncle Robert to get my new catcher’s mit, fielder’s mit, and Louisville Slugger, or don a washed and crisply ironed gray pinstriped Yankee uniform, or see their name regularly in the local newspaper.
I wonder what would happen to our inner city kids if they experienced an opening day parade and game, got selected for an all-star game, or had to get up from their banquet table to go and accept a championship or mvp trophy, or had the opportunity to spend time with men like Mr. Conway-a solid example of family, manhood, mentoring, and fatherhood.
I will never forget my glory days as a New York Yankee. I sure hope that Major League Baseball won’t forget them either.
Read, learn, share….Have a Family Meeting!
C. Randolph Keller
2011 All Rights Reserved.