Strikes as Usual

The result has always been the same — Mo’ne Davis throwing strikes. Aside from Queen Latifah butchering Mo’ne’s entire introduction this was awesome. What a great way to finish the summer and take all of us on another joy ride. I’m sure it won’t be the last but for now school awaits. I hope I didn’t for you Mo!

 

You Can Only Hope

LLWS Las Vegas Chicago Baseball

Watching the team from Chicago win the United States Little League World Series title last week, becoming the first all black team to do so, was one of the best things that could happen in baseball. It not only proved that they were the best Little League team in the U.S. but it pointed to a much greater success, proving that with the right coaching/personnel, baseball in the inner-city can thrive.

The players had a huge homecoming in Chicago’s Millennium Park. They proved to be conquering heroes, kids who made a profound impact on our history books whose names will be etched in stone forever.

But lets make sure we keep some things in perspective; its Little League and after the celebration subsides, when a team from Nevada is no longer their rival and the world isn’t solely their stage, the kids from Jackie Robinson West will have larger issues to deal with that won’t involve baseball.

The “come down” from the Little League World Series might have been just as bad as the loss for my Harlem team back in 2002. Continue reading

They Aren’t Just Happy to Be Here

Jackie Robinson little league

Never have I seen a team hit like this since my 2002 Little League World Series team. Chicago might even do it a little better. They square the ball up consistently and one through nine they are hacking and making solid hard contact the whole time.

They are truly an exciting team to watch. Not to mention they all can run too. They put the pressure on the defense to make the plays and are just truly dominant.

It’s a special thing to see, and in the midst of every person who never played baseball relying on percentages to tell the story of the black not playing, this right here proves the process and ultimately the result of player development.

I caught up with their head coach who players refer to as “DB” and I talked about his players approach at the plate, and how their team reminded me a lot of mine. Continue reading

The Philly Kids Are Here

parade 1

The kids from South Philly showed off their new uniforms today in South Williamsport. The Little League parade, held down on Little League Boulevard was well worth the wait as the young sluggers arrived in style. Their first game is Friday at 3pm against the Southeast Regional champions, Nashville, Tennessee.

They Made Me Go Back

monarchs

I was never really “proud” of the way my college baseball career turned out. From having to transfer from my original school, Ohio University, to Temple University —- not “gelling” well with either coaches, to ultimately a career plagued by injury, baseball was something that I just wanted to be over.

And quite frankly, it was. I was a fifth-year senior, no longer playing and just focusing on finishing my degree. I had just come off huge rotator cuff surgery and never really recovered.  I didn’t even want to be around the game, not to coach, not to watch — I couldn’t even look at a bat. Bitterness consumed me and I didn’t care, nor would I deny that I felt angry toward the game.

It was obvious, and anyone close to me knew how I felt.

Until the winter of 2013. One of my friends recently did a piece for his magazine. The story was based on a group of kids playing for the Anderson Monarchs, a travel team in the heart of South Philadelphia. The majority of the players are African-Americans from urban areas.

The program was founded by Steve Bandura in 1993, whose goal was to give African-Americans a space to play baseball, and also prove that city kids could compete with suburban players. They just needed the resources.

I decided to meet Bandura. Accompanied by friend who introduce me to him, we met at the Marian Recreation Center, the facility where the Monarchs hold their practices and many of their games. The minute you walk in you immediately feel the inner-city vibe. A feeling that provided a sense of home for me, a man who grew up in an urban area as well. Continue reading

In Baseball, a Little Narcissism Isn’t Too Bad

fielder-celebration

While at a Yankee game the other day, I overheard a girlfriend who seemingly knew nothing about baseball ask her boyfriend “so what does Derek Jeter do, like what is he good at?” To the real Jeter fan you can allude to a lot of plays that make him a great ballplayer, but what stands out the most are all of his clutch moments during his tenure with the New York Yankees, sports most storied franchise.

Nonetheless, the boyfriend responded by saying  “He does everything well, but it’s mainly the way he respects the game.”

And there it was, the “respect for the game” phrase that has been the lead on each Jeter story this season. Baseball pundits have forced the pure image of Jeter on us, sort of saying “if you are arrogant or cocky, you can’t be the face of baseball.” Not true, not true at all. In fact, arrogant and cocky is what baseball needs.

The Jeter “respect for the game” slogan has turned into the most annoying part of his farewell tour–recycled like the rags to riches “I still shoot and kill/sell drugs out of my Greenwich, Connecticut mansion” hip-hop story that unfortunately fills our digital air-waves. “Respect for the game, true ambassador, face of baseball, will truly be missed by the way he just plays the game, hard worker.”

Don’t get me wrong it is all true. Jeter has displayed tremendous grace, and humility in the midst of his success. But, after a while, it starts to sound more like a presidential campaign candidate, than a baseball player who is 7th all-time in career hits — and has 5 World Series rings to add to his trophy room as well. Continue reading

The Plight of the New York City Hoop Star; Lance Shows Us All

alg-lance-stephenson-jpg

Lance Stephenson has always been ready. Hence, he was crowned the nickname “Born Ready” by Bobbito Garcia at the famed Rucker Park in Harlem. As an 8th grader, he salivated for the spotlight, just ask O.J Mayo when both were at the ABCD camp in the summer of 2005. I was at that legendary showdown between the then, 14 year-old Lance, and the rising Junior and top player in the nation, O.J Mayo.

This is what really put Lance on the map. When you said “The 8th Grader” after that camp, everyone in the city knew who you were talking about. He was that guy- the next rising star. He had the Felipe Lopez type of hype, but everyone was cautious because New York couldn’t bear to see another bust of that magnitude.

So many NYC high school basketball stars are thrust on the nation by the NY hyper-media to witness the “next big thing”, only to end up being Sebastian Telfair caliber players in the NBA or Lenny Cooke, who never even played an official NBA game (or Omar Cook—remember that guy?).

New York went from being the Mecca of producing great basketball players to the graveyard.

But there was something promising, yet contradicting and questionable about this kid, “Born Ready.” Everyone knew he had the talent, that’s never been the problem, but would his New York so called “street-ball” mentality translate to the college and professional ranks? Or would he just disappear like the rest of them? Was he really ready for this? Continue reading