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Thread: Torii Hunter seeks to make a difference

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    Maple SERP savafan's Avatar
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    Torii Hunter seeks to make a difference

    http://www.usatoday.com/sports/baseb...ll-cover_x.htm

    By Bob Nightengale, USA TODAY
    MINNEAPOLIS Minnesota Twins center fielder Torii Hunter scans the stands during the national anthem. He's not looking for a particular face. Just a black face.

    He stops after a few minutes. It's no different in Minneapolis than in Detroit, St. Louis, Atlanta, Los Angeles or Chicago. He can count the number of African-American fans usually on one hand, almost never more than two.

    Why should it be so surprising, though, if there are fewer and fewer African-Americans on the field?

    "It's a legitimate problem," Commissioner Bud Selig says. "We're trying to do something about it."

    Baseball's African-American population has dwindled from 27% in 1975 to 8%, lowest since baseball was fully integrated in 1959. Baseball has launched numerous programs in an attempt to counteract the decline everything from the RBI (Reviving Baseball in Inner Cities) to building their first Youth Baseball Academy in Compton, Calif. But progress has been slow.

    "This decline didn't happen overnight," says Tom Brasuell, Major League Baseball's vice president for community affairs, "so progress won't happen overnight, either."

    Hunter, 30, and several African-American players have grown tired of waiting. They are contributing $10,000 apiece to launch an urban Little League program, the "Torii Hunter Project (ToriiHunter48.com)," inviting players of all races and nationalities to contribute. It is designed to sway inner-city youth toward baseball, providing equipment and transportation and upgrading facilities.

    "We talk about this problem among ourselves all of the time. We call it a 'blackout,' " says Baltimore Orioles reliever LaTroy Hawkins, 33, who has sent in his check. "There's just not many of us left. Pretty soon, there will be none of us around. We heard all of the excuses. ... So we're doing something about it ourselves."

    Twins left fielder Shannon Stewart, 32, was the first to submit his check. Soon came checks from New York Yankees outfielder Gary Sheffield, 37, Seattle designated hitter Carl Everett, 35 on Saturday, Tampa Bay shortstop B.J. Upton, 21, and his brother, minor leaguer Justin, 18. Cincinnati Reds star Ken Griffey Jr., 36, made the most recent $10,000 pledge. Others came from Chicago Cubs' first baseman Derrek Lee, 30, and right fielder Jacque Jones, 31, Seattle left fielder Matt Lawton, 34, and Tampa Bay outfielder Joey Gathright, 25.

    "We know people have been trying, but it's time to take things in our own hands," Hunter says. "I don't see more inner-city kids playing baseball. It seems like it's just getting worse. So we want to do it ourselves. ... No advertising people. No one from the commissioner's office. ... We, as players, are going to see what we can do about it."

    That draws rousing support from Selig and others in baseball.

    "This is exactly what baseball needs," Toronto Blue Jays general manager J.P. Ricciardi says. "Let's face it, we're doing a lousy job getting the African-American kids playing baseball. It's almost like we've had this elitist attitude. It's like we're saying, "This is baseball, you should play our game.'

    "Well, those days are over. We're losing almost all of the inner-city athletes to basketball and football. And that's sad. Here's a game that prides itself on Hank Aaron and Willie Mays and Jackie Robinson, and we can't get the next generation to even play."

    Shortages of players and coaches

    Only 10-15 African-American players are projected to be taken in the first five rounds of this month's amateur draft, according to Logan White, the Los Angeles Dodgers' amateur scouting director. Only high school pitcher Jeremy Jeffress from South Boston, Va., is a likely candidate to be taken in the first round, White says. According to the NCAA, only 6% of collegiate baseball players are African-American.

    "We're not asleep. We go in and scout the players," White says. "I'm all over the country ... and the number of African-Americans playing college baseball would shock people. You can go ... weeks without seeing a black player. It is absolutely shocking."

    Ken Williams of the Chicago White Sox, MLB's only African-American general manager, says: "I'd love to get involved (with Hunter's program). ... There are so few scholarships, and we're losing these kids to other sports. It's become an expensive game to get good at. ... What's happening is that the best fields, best equipment and best instructors are in the suburbs and not the inner cities."

    The MLB-constructed Youth Baseball Academy is scheduled to provide education and baseball instruction to players as is done in Latin American countries. Baseball's RBI program, which introduced baseball programs to inner-city teens, has been around since 1989. The Little League urban initiative program, which has contributed $500,000 to renovate youth fields and help provide for 10 teams to attend a Jamboree in Williamsport, Pa., during the summer, has been around for six years.

    Hunter and the other players have agreed to sponsor four inner-city Little League teams from North Richmond, Va., Mount Vernon, N.Y., New Haven, Conn., and Wilkes-Barre, Pa. to play exhibition games at the Little League World Series in August. The teams will be flown into Williamsport, stay in the dorms with the championship teams, eat in the dining room and soak in the environment.

    Brasuell, who annually attends the American Baseball Coaches Association Convention, said there are also precious few African-Americans among the 3,000 youth coaches.

    "You can count the coaches of color on one or two hands. ... So we're missing on some kids because they aren't being seen," Brasuell said.

    "It's going to help having guys like Torii Hunter and Derek Jeter being active in programs like this because players nowadays don't live in the inner-city communities. It's not like the days Willie Mays was out playing stickball with all of the kids."

    Boston Red Sox center fielder Coco Crisp, a member of the 1995 Los Angeles Senior Division RBI World Series championship team, believes the impact of the players involved with Hunter's program could be immeasurable.

    "That these kids will actually know who's behind the program and see them play on TV, will be huge," Crisp, 26, says. "The RBI program is good, but I think this will help get kids more involved.

    "Let's face it, the competition these days is rough. You've got all of the Japanese players and Latin players coming over now to play. That means fewer jobs. Baseball wants the best players out there, no matter what their color."

    Better marketing needed

    The program was an idea born in talks with Hunter and his agent, Larry Reynolds.

    Reynolds contacted his brother, ESPN analyst and former major leaguer Harold Reynolds, who directed them to David James, director of the urban initiative program for Little League baseball.

    "We've seen our numbers decline in the urban communities, too," says James, who gave no figures. "We saw a continuing decline in Chicago. We had gone five or 10 years in St. Louis and Kansas City where we didn't have any Little League program operating. This will impact the child that doesn't have the resources or talent to be an All-Star to come to Williamsport to play on the field."

    MLB, too, is frustrated by the lack of African-American players and fans.

    "It's happening more and more. You're seeing it reflected in the stands, as well," Chicago White Sox owner Jerry Reinsdorf says. "Other than the early days of Jackie Robinson and the first wave of black players, black attendance in major league baseball has been very, very small. We've tried everything we could think of, and nothing has worked.

    "We even had trouble giving away tickets. We went to churches and schools in black communities, and that (didn't create) any enthusiasm.

    "We're open to ideas."

    Teams are starting to target ethnic groups in an attempt to increase their fan base, Brasuell said. Many teams will have different promotional heritage nights, such as Latino Night or Asian-American night. The Pittsburgh Pirates are opening a Negro League exhibit later this month at their ballpark.

    Still, Brasuell said, much work needs to be done.

    "We have not done the best job in letting (the African-American community) know how great our product is," Brasuell says. "We've got to get the word out how available these tickets are. ... One of the things that created momentum was in '97 when we celebrated the 50-year anniversary of Jackie Robinson throughout the season. Next year is the 60-year anniversary. We're going to have to get that momentum back and not lose it this time."

    In the meantime, Dodgers scouting director White says the scarcity of African-American amateur players needs to be addressed and resolved.

    "Look at the major cities," he says. "Chicago hasn't had a high-end African-American player (come from there) in years. There might be one high-end kid in New York. The Bay Area doesn't have anything. Even in L.A., what have we really had since Eric Davis and (Darryl) Strawberry?

    "I just think the game has become such a socioeconomic game now," he says. "The average family can't afford to spend $1,500 to have their son playing traveling baseball or $100 for hitting and pitching lessons. We need to get these kids playing, and that starts from the floor up."

    Black heritage unknown to youth

    Hunter, who grew up in Pine Bluff, Ark., with a father whom he says was a crack addict, could have turned to football and basketball. But baseball was his passion, the sport everyone played.

    "You go around the neighborhood in any city, and there are no kids playing baseball," Hunter says. "You stop and tell these inner-city kids about the history of the sport, and they have no clue. You mention the Negro Leagues, and they say, "What is that?' They don't know who Hank Aaron is. Willie Mays. Satchel Paige. ... But no one seems to care."

    Hall of Fame shortstop Ozzie Smith attended Locke High School in south central Los Angeles, as did Hall of Famer Eddie Murray, and believes one of the biggest problems simply is patience.

    "These kids are all looking for the quick fix," Smith, 51, says. "When they see players like Kobe Bryant and LeBron (James) go straight from high school to the NBA, that's their focus. It's not like the Latin American countries, where baseball is still the king. It's time to beat the bushes. It's time to send a message about our sport.

    "What Torii and these guys are doing is great. Now these kids have faces and names to look up to. It can only help, before it's too late."
    My dad got to enjoy 3 Reds World Championships by the time he was my age. So far, I've only gotten to enjoy one. Step it up Redlegs!

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    Posting from Southwest VA redsfaninbsg's Avatar
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    Re: Torii Hunter seeks to make a difference

    Granted more African Americans go to NFL and NBA but whites are still the majority. I think it has to do with culture in baseball and overall I think Whites are more interested in viewing sports while African Americans play them.
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    Re: Torii Hunter seeks to make a difference

    I agree a lot with what Ozzie Smith said at the end. And overall I think Hunter and these other players and doing positive things. But is it really a "problem", if African-American kids (or any kids) have more of a desire to play basketball or football because they want to play one maybe two years in college then off to the pros who can blame them. Compare that to spending however many years in minors where they will not even have a chance to be stars until they make the big club. But in basketball or football a kid can be a star in college. I'm just saying that if you have athletic ability the shortest way to stardom is not baseball.
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    Re: Torii Hunter seeks to make a difference

    Great article and I honestly feel that inner city youth would benefit from it alot to experience Baseball. More Colleges need to add programs to there schools and get support from alumni.

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    Re: Torii Hunter seeks to make a difference

    "These kids are all looking for the quick fix," Smith, 51, says. "When they see players like Kobe Bryant and LeBron (James) go straight from high school to the NBA, that's their focus. It's not like the Latin American countries, where baseball is still the king. It's time to beat the bushes. It's time to send a message about our sport.
    I'd imagine that Ozzie has a bit of a point here -- there's a certain "stardom" that you can get immediately as a top basketball prospect such as a LeBron James or even an O.J. Mayo at a very early age. James was a household name at age 18 -- 99% of the American population couldn't tell you 1 player from the upcoming MLB draft pool.

    However, what baseball prospects lack in immediate superstar status, they make up in sheer volume. The odds of an athletic and talented young kid landing a job as a professional athelete out of high school is exponentially higher with baseball than it is with basketball or football. There are dozens of short season and rookie league teams that field entire squads made up of 18 and 19 year old kids vs. the insanely small number of slots open for landing a pro contract with the NBA or the NBDL as a basketball player.

    You'd think that'd make baseball an enticing sell to kids looking at their athletic prowess as a ticket to better things.
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    Rally Onion! Chip R's Avatar
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    Re: Torii Hunter seeks to make a difference

    I think Ozzie is right on target. I know a lot of the older players like to reminisce and say how great it was in the 50s and 60s, and the 70s to a degree when there was a great number of significant black players then as opposed to now. But there were limited opportunities then for young black athletes. Up till the 70s, a lot of schools, especially in the south, either did not allow black players on their football and basketball teams, not to mention in their schools, and those who did would not necessarily play the black players as much as they should have. the NFL and NBA were integrated but it was almost the reverse of what it is today. Now a young black athlete has the opportunity to go to college anywhere in the US if he is good enough. And, really, that is what it is all about. If they are talented enough they may not stay 4 years but they are being given an opportunity their grandfathers did not. I may sound naive here but I do not think there is a more color blind place in this country than college athletics. I am sure there are exceptions but there is no quota any more. Coaches are looking for talent whether it is black, white or whatever. Even the black QB taboo has fallen.

    It is the rare kid who has skills enough to play football, basketball and baseball at a high level. But those who can, whether they be black or white, are encouraged now days to concentyrate on 1 sport so they can excel at it. That decision is usually made by Jr. High school. Anyone can see the advantages that college football and basketball have over college and/or pro baseball for kids who want to make money ASAP. They can go to school for free for 1 to 5 years, take advantage of all that college has to offer and, if they are good enough, get drafted and not only make big money up front but also get to play on a regular basis. Or, they can play college baseball, possibly having to pay some for school as a lot of programs do not offer full scholarships to everyone. They are also stuck there till they are juniors, which does not differ from college football but players who leave for the NFL have an opportunity to play right away and make good money from the start whereas college baseball players may get a nice signing bonus but have to serve an apprenticeship in the minors where they have to prove themselves over again.

    I understand Torri and the others lament about the lack of black baseball players. I just hope they understand that there are more opportunities out there for black kids than baseball.
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    Re: Torii Hunter seeks to make a difference

    Quote Originally Posted by Caveat Emperor
    I'd imagine that Ozzie has a bit of a point here -- there's a certain "stardom" that you can get immediately as a top basketball prospect such as a LeBron James or even an O.J. Mayo at a very early age. James was a household name at age 18 -- 99% of the American population couldn't tell you 1 player from the upcoming MLB draft pool.
    You are quite right about that. However, nearly all D1-A football and basketball stars are outliers both in terms of size and athletic ability. Baseball does not have a size requirement to be a good player like both of those sports do. Take Ryan Freel or Juan Pierre for example.

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    For a Level Playing Field RedFanAlways1966's Avatar
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    Re: Torii Hunter seeks to make a difference

    "It's a legitimate problem," Commissioner Bud Selig says. "We're trying to do something about it."

    Baseball's African-American population has dwindled from 27% in 1975 to 8%, lowest since baseball was fully integrated in 1959. Baseball has launched numerous programs in an attempt to counteract the decline everything from the RBI (Reviving Baseball in Inner Cities) to building their first Youth Baseball Academy in Compton, Calif. But progress has been slow.
    According to the 2002 U.S. Census the percentage of African American citizens in the United States was approx. 13%.

    8% vs. 13%... is this really a "legitimate problem"?? Should we compare the pct. of Latino citizens in this country to the pct. of Latino ballplayers in the game? Do you think there might be a large discrepancy in those two numbers? Would we call this a legitimate problem too? Of course not.

    This is exactly what baseball needs," Toronto Blue Jays general manager J.P. Ricciardi says. "Let's face it, we're doing a lousy job getting the African-American kids playing baseball. It's almost like we've had this elitist attitude. It's like we're saying, "This is baseball, you should play our game.'
    When has it ever been the responsibility of MLB to get certain groups of kids to play baseball? Personally I played baseball b/c my parents encouraged me to play. I played baseball b/c I wanted to play. I also played football and basketball b/c I wanted to play these games. Neither me nor my friends had MLB players or personnel "getting us to play". Perhaps the players during my childhood were elitists as well (according to Mr. Ricciardi's description)?

    With that being said... it is great to see guys like Torii Hunter do their part to help. I wish more ballplayers would help and get involved in things to help kids and give kids thing to do (and keep them away from the evils out there). But I also think people should understand that the pct. of certain races in the game might be skewed, but the African American pcts. in the game are not that far off from the pct. of African Americans in this country. Without even looking... I'd bet that there is a lower pct. of Caucasian players in MLB than than the pct. of Caucasians in this country. And Latinos?

    I see ballplayers. I see the best that the game has to offer. The only colors I see are Cincinnati RED or Chicago BLUE or Cardinal RED or Pittsburgh YELLOW or....
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    Score Early, Score Often gonelong's Avatar
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    Re: Torii Hunter seeks to make a difference

    Quote Originally Posted by RedFanAlways1966
    When has it ever been the responsibility of MLB to get certain groups of kids to play baseball?
    The more kids that play the better product you end up with on the field. Having a wider diversity of players gives fans someone to identify with.

    How many little guys did you know growing up that were fans of Davey Concepcion? They identified with him and could dream of being a MLB player through him.

    It may not be their "responsibility", but it is good business.

    GL

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    Re: Torii Hunter seeks to make a difference

    How many little guys did you know growing up that were fans of Davey Concepcion? They identified with him and could dream of being a MLB player through him.

    It may not be their "responsibility", but it is good business.
    Every Venezuelan mentions Davey as their all time hero, he probably did more marketing for MLB than they did in that area.

    That's what I hear, creating a connection between communties and a player.

    That sort of connection in the 50's are the reason the Reds owned the town starting with promotions, fan interaction outside as well as inside the game and constant press coverage.

    The only difference is the market is being mined deeper and a man is giving some of himself back.

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    Re: Torii Hunter seeks to make a difference

    All-time top ten baseball leaders:

    HRS 5/10 black
    Runs 4/10 black
    Hits 1/10 black
    RBI 3/10 black
    SB 4/10 black
    BA 0/10 black

    Jackie Robinson played his first game in 1947 and 31 out of the 60 slots filled above are by white all-time greats who never even played with African Americans. Of the 29 slots available, African Americans hold 16 of them, more than double the percentage of black participation in the sport at its highest.

    African Americans have been dispaportionately successful at baseball and MLB is missing out on an abundance of talent. So I would say it is a problem for the game that such a decrease has occured. I hope MLB's and Tori Hunter's efforts are successful, because the future of the sport will be much stronger if they are.
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    Mon chou Choo vaticanplum's Avatar
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    Re: Torii Hunter seeks to make a difference

    Quote Originally Posted by RedFanAlways1966
    According to the 2002 U.S. Census the percentage of African American citizens in the United States was approx. 13%.

    8% vs. 13%... is this really a "legitimate problem"?? Should we compare the pct. of Latino citizens in this country to the pct. of Latino ballplayers in the game? Do you think there might be a large discrepancy in those two numbers? Would we call this a legitimate problem too? Of course not.
    I don't think the comparison here is to the black population % at large, but to the amount that used to be involved in baseball 25 years ago as opposed to now, which is stated as 27%. That is a significant difference. As Chip says, this is partly due to the opportunities that have cropped up in other sports, but it's still a problem both for the kids and the sport if it means that it is taking kids AWAY from baseball in such significant numbers.

    When has it ever been the responsibility of MLB to get certain groups of kids to play baseball? Personally I played baseball b/c my parents encouraged me to play. I played baseball b/c I wanted to play. I also played football and basketball b/c I wanted to play these games. Neither me nor my friends had MLB players or personnel "getting us to play". Perhaps the players during my childhood were elitists as well (according to Mr. Ricciardi's description)?

    With that being said... it is great to see guys like Torii Hunter do their part to help. I wish more ballplayers would help and get involved in things to help kids and give kids thing to do (and keep them away from the evils out there). But I also think people should understand that the pct. of certain races in the game might be skewed, but the African American pcts. in the game are not that far off from the pct. of African Americans in this country. Without even looking... I'd bet that there is a lower pct. of Caucasian players in MLB than than the pct. of Caucasians in this country. And Latinos?

    I see ballplayers. I see the best that the game has to offer. The only colors I see are Cincinnati RED or Chicago BLUE or Cardinal RED or Pittsburgh YELLOW or....
    You had a great experience as a kid, and it would be wonderful if we could all be able to only see teams' colors, etc. But you were lucky that baseball was a fun pastime to which you were exposed very young. For some inner-city kids, quite a lot of whom are black (and the kids I am referring to in this post are specifically urban, not the black population at large), it means something very different. Part of the reason many of us were able to love baseball so easily is because it was one of just many things we were given to do and to love. But for many of them, sports are the only things they have. And the sports that allow them to get their "ticket" out, if they have the talent and work their butts off, are currently basketball and football, as others have said. Baseball does not give kids the resources that these other sports do, and that's why the percentage of inner-city kids playing has fallen, because they no longer see it as a legitimate way out. The washington Heights neighborhood in New York City, where I believe Manny Ramirez grew up, is still a HUGE baseball area for blacks and Latinos and there is a ton of talent up there. But the baseball opportunities really thin out at a certain age in comparison to other sports, and the kids turn to basketball or fall through the cracks entirely. If this goes on long enough, baseball will stop being important to them because it's not the most viable option, because if they want a different life for themselves these are things they literally have to think about at age 12. They don't necessarily have the luxuries that many of us did of just enjoying the game. And this, I think, is what programs like this one are trying to give back to them in part.

    Now, there are two sides to this coin in my opinion as well, because I think there's a real danger of sports becoming the ONLY way inner-city kids see as their "way out", instead of realizing that they can also be doctors or lawyers or whatever. Not only does this narrow them in terms of belief of what they can do, but it's also risky, since injuries, health and luck play such a huge part in one's success in sports. That's something I really struggle with, because on the one hand it's important to get across the "you can do anything" message, but on the other hand sports are so immediate and entertaining for kids that it's much easier and often more successful to engross them than it is, say, to convince them that it's worth it to put in 15 years of study to be a doctor and work 20 hours a day for a billionth of the salary. I guess I just think it's important to have as many opportunities available as possible, and programs like this are a great contribution I think.
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    Re: Torii Hunter seeks to make a difference

    Quote Originally Posted by PickOff
    All-time top ten baseball leaders:

    HRS 5/10 black
    Runs 4/10 black
    Hits 1/10 black
    RBI 3/10 black
    SB 4/10 black
    BA 0/10 black

    Jackie Robinson played his first game in 1947 and 31 out of the 60 slots filled above are by white all-time greats who never even played with African Americans. Of the 29 slots available, African Americans hold 16 of them, more than double the percentage of black participation in the sport at its highest.

    African Americans have been dispaportionately successful at baseball and MLB is missing out on an abundance of talent. So I would say it is a problem for the game that such a decrease has occured. I hope MLB's and Tori Hunter's efforts are successful, because the future of the sport will be much stronger if they are.
    This is a timely topic, one dear to my heart, living in the city. I'm surprised no one mentioned the articles in this morning's paper regarding the Reds Community Fund helping to restore inner city ball fields and to help find teams. Sadly, baseball takes space and that's real estate. My friend who played for the Reds in the minors in the 50's talked about how many ballfields there used to be in the city. I was glad to see in today's article that three of the ballfields being fixed up are in Over the Rhine and/or Queensgate. More are in Evanston and Walnut Hills.

    Here's the first article:

    Reds revamp rough diamonds
    Neglected city baseball fields fixed for kids
    BY DUSTIN DOW | ENQUIRER STAFF WRITER
    Bill Blevins pours sandy-colored rocks from two paper cups onto a boardroom table at the Cincinnati Recreation Commission headquarters.

    Some are small pebbles; others are the size of a golf ball or a cell phone - all collected in minutes from a local baseball field.

    Blevins explains his goal: For 18 once-downtrodden inner-city baseball diamonds, he wants to find clay far superior to the dirt that contained the rocks on the table.

    Blevins' inspiration comes from the men sitting across the table, who control $130,000 that the Cincinnati Reds Community Fund is supplying to restore the fields.

    The money is giving 1,300 kids ages 5-15 on 85 inner-city teams safer, more enjoyable and better-looking fields that can be used more frequently.

    Reds owner Bob Castellini has pushed for the organization to be more community-oriented, which is why the nonprofit arm of the Reds initially donated $15,000 this spring, enabling the commission to get unsightly fields ready for play in April.

    "We want these fields to become so good that they become the staple for the 130 other CRC fields," Blevins, supervisor of outdoor maintenance, told the dozen or so people May 23. It's one of several meetings in the effort to rehabilitate fields that coaches used to call "unplayable," and "dangerous."

    The commission now can maintain the fields - with treatment two to three times per week - through the mid-July end of youth baseball.

    Before the Reds Community Fund came along, the CRC did not have the money to pay the overtime hours necessary to regularly service the fields.

    Fields that used to be mud pits, strewn with broken glass and tire marks, are now dragged smooth, and clean of debris.

    "You used to get cut on your legs if you slid," says Ivan Powell, 12, of the Walnut Hills Six Men Tigers before a game at Hoffman Field in Evanston. "I wore shorts so I would know not to slide. But now they fixed it so the fields are nice, and you can slide into the base."

    But drainage problems still arise.

    So Reds Community Fund executive director Charley Frank and Mike Hartmann, an RCF board member energized by the project, went back to the board last month and managed to free $115,000 to make permanent improvements to 14 of the 18 fields by August.

    About $60,000 of that will be spent on new clay - preferably without the big rocks in it - to allow fields to dry quickly after rain.

    Some $20,000 will go toward paying workers overtime.

    NO MORE BLACK EYES

    One weekend in May, CRC staffers prepared Hoffman Field at 5:30 a.m. the morning after a rain for a Sunday afternoon game. Their presence and insistence on getting the fields in good shape didn't go unnoticed.

    "They've done a marvelous job," says Six Men Tigers coach Charles Kelly, who's been coaching youth baseball in Cincinnati for 29 years. "These fields haven't looked this good in 25 years. The kids are loving it. They can go for a ground ball now without having to worry about getting hit in the face with a ball. They're still a little gun-shy because they're used to getting busted lips and black eyes from bad hops on bad fields."

    Response from most coaches has echoed Kelly's. But Frank heard from one coach - whose team plays most games on fields not part of the improvement program - who called the project "racist" because all of the fields are in predominantly black neighborhoods and the teams that use them are made up mostly or entirely of black youths.

    "The individual told me we were coming across as looking exclusive," Frank says. " 'When are you going to spread the resources?' Well, nobody is going to apologize for spreading resources to inner-city kids.' "

    Eventually, Frank hopes to expand the work beyond the current 18 fields. Owl's Nest Park, wryly known as "The Swamp," near the Evanston-O'Bryonville border, is a target for 2007, for instance. A separate $3 million field-building project is under way in Western Hills.

    "The field feels really good," says 10-year-old Andre Taul, about to play at Hoffman Field. "Before, it was real soft. You'd run, and it would be real muddy and the ball would be bouncing all over."

    'WE SERVE THE KIDS'

    The Reds Community Fund is relying on Blevins' expertise to keep the fields in top shape even after this summer with preventive maintenance. Costs are projected to be lower each year, making room for future donations to go toward rehabbing untouched fields.

    "What they are doing is a blessing for us," Blevins says, pointing to Frank and Hartmann. "I appreciate all of their help. Because at the end of the day, we serve the kids. And they deserve to have the best playing conditions possible."
    The other article was about one of the Walnut Hills teams hooking up with a team in Loveland to play each other and get to know each other. I really, really like this initiative to cross boundaries:

    Very different youth teams find common ground
    BY DUSTIN DOW | ENQUIRER STAFF WRITER
    An 11-year-old scanned the baseball field Sunday, May 21 in Evanston. He saw suburbanites and inner-city kids on the same field.

    The youngsters warmed up, getting ready to mix rosters and play with - not against - each other. And that made all the difference.

    "I like it because we don't have no problems on the field," said Devante Jones, of the Walnut Hills Six Men Tigers. "We're just having fun playing baseball. None of that racial stuff that I see on the streets or read about in the newspaper. Out here playing baseball, it's peaceful."

    A byproduct of the Cincinnati Reds Community Fund's rehabilitation of 18 inner-city baseball fields is a spring and summer series of get-togethers between these two culturally cross-matched teams: the Six Men Tigers and Loveland STIX/Hurricanes.

    Loveland coach Dave Soth wanted to present a new scene and culture to his players, most of whom had never been into Walnut Hills or Evanston, where the teams met for the third time last month.

    Walnut Hills coach Charles Kelly readily agreed, sensing a similar opportunity for his players to make friends with children of a different race and life experience they might not otherwise meet.

    "I used to think it was scary," Loveland's Ryan Judd, 11, said, tossing a baseball 10 feet away from Jones. "But it's not. It's actually nice, not like an alley and all crowded like I thought it would be."

    Creating that sort of awareness was what Soth had in mind when he contacted Reds Community Fund director Charley Frank to inquire about participating with an inner-city team. Frank had been working with Kelly and figured the two teams would be a perfect match.

    Loveland's team is all-white from a community that is 96 percent white. The Six Men Tigers players are black and come from Evanston or Walnut Hills, more than 67 percent black.

    Now, the teams - players, parents and coaches - are regular acquaintances. They've already done outings in Loveland and Evanston, and they've got a joint trip to Louisville planned, another baseball get-together, a tour of the Reds Hall of Fame and Museum and a possible visit to the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center.

    "This is a wonderful model for how a game can be used from a broader perspective," said Cathy McDaniels Wilson, director of dialogue at the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center. She said the center would be interested in hosting both teams for a day.

    "One of the problems in our society is we don't move outside our comfort zone. We don't go into other neighborhoods of different races. We become ignorant of the life experiences of others.

    "The coaches of these teams have broken down that barrier."
    When we were out west on vacation, we stopped in Denver and toured Coors Field. I noticed photos in one of the hallways of ballfields which various ballplayers sponsored to upgrade. I am thrilled to see the Reds doing this now. And I'd love to see the team start making groups of tickets available to neighborhood groups or youth centers to start drawing in more fans, particularly from the African American community.

  15. #14
    "Let's Roll" TeamBoone's Avatar
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    Re: Torii Hunter seeks to make a difference

    Quote Originally Posted by redsmetz
    This is a timely topic, one dear to my heart, living in the city. I'm surprised no one mentioned the articles in this morning's paper regarding the Reds Community Fund helping to restore inner city ball fields and to help find teams.
    Actually, someone did... TeamCasey posted the article in a separate thread:
    http://www.redszone.com/forums/showthread.php?t=46857

    What's being done in Cincinnati, spearheaded by Bob Castellini (Reds Community Fund) in conjunction with the Cincinnati Recreation Commission, shows a rising concern regarding the decline of inner-city baseball, though Castellini's concern appears to be inner-city baseball in general while Hunter's main concern is the declining rate of blacks in baseball.

    Hunter's stance is well taken, but it appears to me from the article that only four teams will benefit. Perhaps I misread or missed something. The concept is great, but I'm worried that only a handful are actually being helped... but then again, I suppose exposure will go a long way in bringing national attention to the dilemma.

    Will more cities begin to care? I hope so.

    I agree with those who support Ozzie's perception. The way to the fast money is football and basketball. Will the kids with dollar signs in their eyes begin to play more baseball? That remains to be seen. One thing I do think will happen is that the kids who truly love baseball will once again have the means to play.... gloves, bats, balls, and a decent field is a lot to ask in most inner cities. This should help a lot.




    Quote Originally Posted by redsmetz
    When we were out west on vacation, we stopped in Denver and toured Coors Field. I noticed photos in one of the hallways of ballfields which various ballplayers sponsored to upgrade. I am thrilled to see the Reds doing this now. And I'd love to see the team start making groups of tickets available to neighborhood groups or youth centers to start drawing in more fans, particularly from the African American community.
    Actually, the Reds have been very active in supporting youth baseball. That's what the Kid Glove nights at the park are all about. They've raised thousands of dollars over the past several decades by holding 3-4 of them per season with all proceeds going to help the various knothole leagues throughout the Tristate.

    Vouchers are supplied by the Reds, gratis, and sold by the youth players (and their parents, of course). This brings tons of people to the ballpark, some who may never have had the opportunity to attend without this program and the money earned is spent on equipment, uniforms, field maintenance/repairs, and whatever else is needed by the youth leagues.
    Last edited by TeamBoone; 06-02-2006 at 12:01 PM.
    "Enjoy this Reds fans, you are watching a legend grow up before your very eyes" ... DoogMinAmo on Adam Dunn

  16. #15
    Redsmetz redsmetz's Avatar
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    Re: Torii Hunter seeks to make a difference

    I saw the article posted elsewhere after I'd prepared mine. I do agree with whoever it was who noted that there are considerably more scholarships for college available for football and basketball and I think those two sports use college as their minor league systems.

    I agree too that the Reds Kid Glove Games have been longstanding in their support of youth baseball. Heck, back in the day, it was the only way you were going to see Interleague Play, first with the Indians, then with the Tigers. I like the current system though because it gives a broader selection of games.

    Of course, the more folks can do to resurrect youth baseball in the inner city the better it is for the sport.


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