Bringing More Inner City Kids to the Mound

Members of the Boys & Girls Club in Cleveland's Slavic Village neighborhood are taking a swing at a new sport ... baseball.

Through the new baseball program, kids ages 9-18 at the Boys & Girls Clubs are being introduced to America’s pastime for the first time. Coaches said 178 youngsters have played the game this spring – about 60 percent of them for the first time.

“There’s a false narrative around baseball in the inner city, that is: inner-city kids don’t like baseball,” said Ken Wood, Communications Director and Program Coordinator at the Boys & Girls Clubs of Cleveland. “We found that to be absolutely not true. What’s really true is that they haven’t really played baseball. There’s a big difference.”

Ten year-old player Timothy Gardener is one of the enthusiastic rookies. “You get to hit as far as you can, you get to catch with your hand, and then you keep running to the bases,” he said.

But Gardener had trouble naming his favorite baseball player – or any baseball player for that matter.

Once the sport of African American stars like Satchel Paige, Jackie Robinson, and Larry Doby, professional baseball is now seeing its lowest share of African American athletes since the 1950’s – less than 7%.      

Ryan Easter, the grandson of African American baseball great Luke Easter, believes the demographics of baseball should better reflect the country – for the good of the game.

“Your sports team should be a microcosm of your city,” Easter said. “It’s critical to the sport, because it represents our country.”

But even if these young baseballers, don’t grow up to be the next Kenny Lofton or Josh Gibson, the game still has a lot to teach them, according to Wood.

“It’s a game of overcoming failure,” he said. “You don’t get immediate rewards sometimes. It’s sort of like life.”    

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