It was a perfect ending to an out of body baseball experience. For every African-American dad who has sworn to stay true to his original roots and a sport that has impacted the black experience in America as much as any sport. For the uncles and grandfathers and coaches and instructors from T-ball on up, who never wavered in their belief that baseball is an all-inclusive sport and just as vital and useful for the black community as any other ethnicity.
Some of the most impactful stars in American history from Jackie Robinson to Hank Aaron to Satchel Paige to Reggie Jackson to Ken Griffey Jr., transcended athletics and added to the illustrious history of African-Americans in MLB, which has been a consistent vehicle for implementing social change through athletic accomplishment.
To keep a group of people oppressed or lacking self-esteem, the youthful minds of that group must stay infested with negativity and void of history. Unfortunately, before Jackie Robinson West made LLWS history in its 7-5 victory over Nevada on Saturday to become the first all-black team to win the LLWS U.S. Championship, there was this constant media obsession with writing about the 8 percent of blacks in MLB and all of the reasons why “the black community” has abandoned the sport.
Made my own blood boil every time I had to write about it or analyze the numbers. I kept talking about these grass roots movements that I see popping up all over neighborhoods, where fathers who grew up in the ‘70s and ‘80s –when baseball was booming with black ballers—are now forming teams and holding clinics and giving instruction at local parks. I do my share of traveling, but I’m not going from hood to hood, city to city, suburb to suburb and checking to see who’s playing baseball. But in my travels – wherever they may be – over the past five years, I have seen a rebirth of fundamental training clinics and efforts by black coaches to seek out young African-American kids to play baseball. The diehard ones are willing to coach any kid that will listen. It becomes an addiction.
You don’t build a LLWS series winner overnight. It doesn’t happen by accident. You can’t Cinderella your way through regionals and stiff-as-steel competition that comprises Williamsport’s grand gathering of champions. Jackie Robinson West’s road to greatness began in 1971 with league founder Joseph Haley and culminated with “The Pride of Southside Chicago” shutting down all theories and absurd philosophies about black kids not digging baseball. In 1983 JRW made it to the LLWS, but didn’t win a game. Three more decades of grinding later and they are a juggernaut, having reached the highest level of success an 11-13-year-old baseball player can attain.
Their deeds spit in the face of recent opinion. Cats like Pierce Jones are examples of why baseball is still America’s past time and a godsend to the hood. Commercially, it’s just getting a bad rap from cats who just don’t understand the game. I tell you right now the white and Latino players aren’t trying to wake up any sleeping bears. If black athletes start focusing their talents on baseball again with the same vigor that they pursue basketball and football, the complexion of the game would quickly change.
JRW is proof that when inner-city kids are provided the same access to training as academy kids in the Dominican Republic, Puerto Rico and Venezuela, they can bring the pain too and produce exceptional baseball stars at the same rate as any other race.
It’s about education, introduction and choice.
It wasn’t easy. I told you it wouldn’t be and for a minute it seemed as if Chi-Town, who came through four elimination games to get to the U.S. Championship , would be unable to complete the legendary story that Mo’Ne Davis helped create. Nevada already washed them by a score of 13-2 in the first meeting. Not many experts picked them to win, especially with ace Marquis Jackson ineligible to toss. Responding to a plea from Butler earlier in the week, the Windy City kept cheering and the energy was too much for Vegas, whose second baseman made a crucial error to seal their fates. Revenge is always sweet, especially in the most important game of your life.
"I don't like losing," Jackie Robinson's Trey Hondras said. "It's like a girl dumping you and going to your best friend. It really hurt.
"Getting revenge is like getting a better girl and showing her off to your best friend."
When Josh Houston hung a 0-2 breaking ball to Nevada’s Brad Stone, who banged a two-run homer over the right center field fence with two outs in fifth inning, Chicago’s 4-3 lead evaporated.
Houston just held his hat in dejection and started streaming tears. The dream was slipping away.
The streets of Southside Chicago were silent at that moment. Family and fans were sick with disappointment, but the beauty of baseball prevailed . While Houston stood on the mound, devastated, the heavy-hitting Nevada team celebrated as if the game was over.
Manager Darold Butler comes out to mound, looks at his dejected pitcher and a stone-faced infield and shouts, "It's about us right now ...get your head together, you standing here on the mound..Let’s go get it done right now! Let's work!!"
In response, Chicago showed a resilience that has defined conflicted urban communities throughout American history. Houston, the youngest of three baseball bashing brothers, fought through the pain and got out of the inning. He’s seen his brothers do it so many times. He then got a huge hit to tie the game. His brother Jerry Jr., 20, is a sophomore on the Missouri baseball team. At Mount Carmel, he started at shortstop on the varsity all four years and was a key member of the 2013 state champions. Jeremy, 16, started at shortstop for the Caravan this past season.
In the end, they won it playing Chi-town ball. In the bottom of the fifth inning, JRW worked two walks and began frustrating the 6-foot-2 Nevada pitcher who was growing more demonstrative on the mound. They scratched out a few more runs with heart and hustle and used their speed to outrun Nevada and do what most people would call the “impossible.”