The black man has been an underdog in this country since its inception, but all-black Jackie Robinson West isn’t used to being in that position.
Most heads had JRW favored before it eliminated Mo’Ne and The Miracles with a 6-5 victory on Thursday night to advance to Saturday’s U.S. Championship against offensive juggernaut Nevada. The Philly funksters fell behind early, fought back, but still came up a run short.
The matchup in itself was historic because of the many positive images that it projected onto the television screen—favorable images of America’s black youth—which is in direct contrast to how our young people are being portrayed by the media in Ferguson, Missouri.
Mo’Ne Davis will be missed and most people surely got a kick out of her sending boys back to the dugout agitated and bewildered. In a way though, the novelty of her performance detracted from some other super (black) ball players on that Taney squad like Joe Richardson, Zion Spearman and orbit-blaster Kai Cummings. It was a hype machine that was moving 1000 miles per hour until Chi-Town put an end to it.
Now, our attention shifts from one amazing black girl with no intentions of continuing to play baseball, to a team of young African-American kids—baseball lifers—who are on the verge of making history and forcing America to reassess its claim that baseball is a corpse in the black community.
They might not draw 34,000 fans and a request for 375 media credentials, but the JRW squad is loaded with talent, intelligence, athleticism, speed, power and savvy. They are no aberration. In fact, they are the culmination of decades of community grinding and emerged as the crown jewels of a 400-kid youth league (now becoming a noted baseball factory) located on the Southside of Chi-Town, deep in the heart of Bullets Creek USA.
Chicago has a ton of accolades and historical significance to play for, and the team articulates a firm understanding of its significance beyond baseball. That’s immense pressure for 11-13-year-old’s, but any movement of colossal change begins with the merits and minds of our youth.
Flame thrower Marquis Jackson started Thursday’s game and his 76-mph fastball held Taney at bay, giving JRW an insurmountable 6-2 lead. Though ineligible to pitch the rest of the tournament, Jackson recognizes that his teammates each did their part in helping put JRW on the LLWS map and bringing credibility to their city of ill repute.
“ It’s feels good because it’s been 31 years (since we got to the LLWS) and a lot of people thought we wouldn’t even make it out of the regionals. The last time we came here (in 1983 with league founder Joseph Haley) we didn’t win a game, and now we're playing for the U.S. championship,” Jackson told ESPN’s Karl Ravech after the game.
When asked what a win like this means to their drug, gang and violence infested community, JRW players spit it real.
“We mean a lot to the city,” one player said later in the postgame interview, “because seeing an all African-American team shows other kids that we can do anything. Some of those kids that are growing up around (gangs and violence in Chicago) can see us and know that they can do something positive instead of choosing something negative. “
I see some future politicians and legislators coming down the pike, and when these kids become adults and sit proudly as winning products of an environment that’s currently considered a “lost” area in our country, they can begin to institute a larger change. A transformation that begins on the diamond of a little league field and ends in healing the negative perception and culture of a forgotten city.
A city where government resources get lost in the numbers as social programs and hope decreases and poverty, violence and hopelessness increases.
Legend Stompers: Vegas High Rollers Play To Win
If “Queen Slayer” was the slogan for Chicago on Thursday night, then its mental banner for Saturday’s game against a power-poking Vegas squad, should read: “Pride and Revenge.”
After turning The Great Lakes Regional into a personal playground, outscoring opponents by more than 50 runs and snatching three quick wins, JRW ran into buzzsaw Nevada.
In fact, it was a butt-whipping that JRW is used to dispensing, not receiving. They fell behind early against Mountain Ridge (Las Vegas) and never recovered in their 13-2, four-inning mercy loss on August 17. Pitcher Brandon Green walked the first three batters he faced before giving up a grand slam in the first inning, the first of five home runs hit by Nevada.
JRW will have to use its speed and exceptional coaching to pull this win out. The Nevada team isn’t here to be a footnote in anybody’s legendary story, as those band of baseballers are also chasing history. They are already the first team from Vegas to make the LLWS and only JRW stands in the way of them becoming the first team from Nevada to win the U.S. Championship and potentially the International C’hip against Japan on Sunday.
Chicago has shown a fighter’s resilience by winning out and putting themselves in a position to seek some revenge.
Nevada has been Murderer’s Row with the metal mashers. Entering the game against Taney, Nevada had two kids hitting over .800 and remarkably, they aren’t even considered the best hitters on the team. Austin Kryszczuk is the guy Nomar Garciaparra, Barry Larkin and Ravech called the “best hitter in the tournament.”
He’s banging around .600, but he’s a shutdown lefty on the hill too and had two homers in that first route of JRW.
Mountain Ridge is an offensive powerhouse, but it also pitches and plays D. The Vegas boys outscored opponents 176-26 this summer in posting a 15-0 record entering the 8-1 win over Taney on Wednesday. They are 3-0 at Williamsport and have outscored opponents 33-5.
Vegas is the favorite, but I’d throw the numbers out the window for this game. The Chi-Town team has people who don’t know the difference between a bunt and a blunt tuning in to watch them ball. That’s impact.
Chicago manager Darold Butler had this message for the Windy City.
"Keep cheering," Butler said Thursday night, his most glorious night as a youth baseball coach. "We hear you. It's working. Make it louder."
Looks like baseball – when presented and played all-inclusively - is equally enjoyed by Americans of all races. All you need is a vision and a dream. And a bunch of young leaders to execute it. JRW has one more colossal Mountain to climb. Mo’Ne Davis took them halfway there. Finish the job fellas.