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Does baseball need to be straight out of Compton?
2006-08-02 23:44
by Bob Timmermann

Jeff Passan of Yahoo Sports profiles the Urban Youth Academy established by Major League Baseball in Compton, California.

It's generally a well-written piece except for a few passages.

Passan describes Compton as "hardscrabble." While the city is not wealthy (median family income was around $35,000 in the last Census), Compton is not as much destitute as it is has problems with crime, poor schools, and a city government that is often ethically challenged.

I think this sentence: "Baseball's history in Los Angeles is as big as its current state is bleak." could have been phrased a bit better. The Los Angeles area is producing a lot of great baseball talent. After all, it has a lot of people and has good facilities. It's just that few of those facilities are in Compton or South Los Angeles. In the suburban areas of Los Angeles, baseball is still quite popular.

I wonder what will happen to this academy as time goes on and the area, like much of Metropolitan Los Angeles, becomes increasingly Latino. Will there be the same commitment made to it then?

2006-08-03 00:02:44
1.   Greg Brock
From my experience in Long Beach, Gardena, and Carson, the kids out there don't want to play baseball. African-American kids view it as a "White" sport, and the kind of game that rich people play. I'm making no judgement...I'm just telling you what the young minority kids say.

Personally, I think croquet is much more elitist.

2006-08-03 01:24:14
2.   joejoejoe
Baseball is a tough sport to translate to into smaller games that teach the fundamental skills like basketball or soccer. You can do dribbling and shooting drills by yourself in those sports but you need 4 people to take batting practice in baseball (pitcher, catcher, fielder, batter). Property is valuable in the US. In places dense enough to have neighborhoods with 20 kids available to play baseball there are few 'sandlots' to use on a whim. It takes organizing to get a decent game of baseball and a field but the management skills of 11-year olds can generate a reasonable facsimile of basketball in an alley or driveway. That's a big reason why baseball is losing participants relative to other sports in both urban and suburban areas.
2006-08-03 05:23:27
3.   Chyll Will
2I agree with you, I've never viewed this as a perception issue nearly as much as an availability of resources issue. With basketball and soccer, there are really only two or three things you need: a ball, a place to play and an opponent (maybe). With baseball, you need a ball, a bat, a glove, a place to play and several opponents (maybe).

I say maybe because the dynamics of fundamental competition are different in that even if it were one-on-one in each sport, baseball has the disadvantage of having to slow or stop play in the event that the ball is hit into play; with only one defender, you take much more time in defense as opposed to soccer or basketball (direct contact).

The cost factor, as I eluded to, are favorable to basketball and soccer. In fundamental competition, a basketball or a soccer ball is less exepensive than a baseball, glove and bat. Keep in mind that we are focused on urban areas where resources (money) are limited and items like a bat and glove are considered luxury items. Although Sammy Sosa as, legend has it, fashioned a milk carton to use as a glove, he also had an advantage that I will mention in a moment.

As joe! also pointed out, space is an issue. Basketball can be played on a sidewalk, a driveway or anywhere you can nail a hoop to and automatically have a halfcourt. Soccer can be played in the street, driveway, backyard, parking lot, etc. Baseball is trickier because you have to not only have enough space to play, but you also have to prepare the space (bases). Without them, you're essentially playing golf.

Now, the advantage that Sammy Sosa had over Compton or Bed-Stuy kids is that he lived in an environment where baseball was encouraged and supported by any means; he had teammates and opponents to play with whereas kids who would otherwise be interested in these urban areas often do not. Fundamentals are easier to teach and utilize in competition when the requirements of competition are met; baseball has a strict bible of rules that even professional managers have a hard time coping with, if not recalling. Not to say that the other sports do not; but the fundamentals are less copious in the other sports due to the nature of their offense.

From my own experience (and I grew up in the suburbs), I can say that the fundamentals of baseball came much harder than the fundamentals of basketball (I was not interested in soccer, so I'll leave that alone.) I was fortunate enough to have enough kids to play with from time to time, and even when there weren't enough, we still had decent competition with adjustments. I picked up my fundamentals from playing stickball with my family and friends, and later being able to play in Little League.

I have to say, however, that the Little League I played in, with the aluminum bats, leather gloves, hard balls and plastic helmets, batting gloves, eye black, uniforms, pretty girls, etc., was far less supportive of my skill and development as a player than my family and friends in playing stickball with a shovel handle, broken tree branch, broom handle, 2x4 or the rare bat, along with a borrowed glove (or more reasonably, bare hands), and the requisite tennis ball or sponge ball. I say this because more often than not, the parents who coached the Little League teams mainly coached for their own benefit; i.e. their own kids, and would often prop them up and support them in situations where fundamentals can be encouraged, as opposed to coaching the entire team.

This is often left unsaid in these types of discussions about teaching fundamentals and having resources available. What's in it for the people involved? I later came to realize that this is a big part of the problem when I found myself being shut out at baseball tryouts in high school, while the basketball coach was on his hands and knees begging for me to play on his team (which won a couple of state titles despite my absense.) If fundamentals are to be taught, then you have to involve people who see the implementation of those aspects in the big picture as an asset to the community and not simply as a way to promote themselves and their own agenda.

All of that to say this: if there was truly a serious amount of support from the communties in and around these urban areas to teach the fundamentals of baseball and have more black children play the game, it would not be an issue. Interest has lagged because support has been flagging for generations while the dynamics of these urban communities continue to change. Poor or disadvantaged in the Dominican Republic or Cuba (for example) is different than the same in Compton because the interests within the culture is different, and the support for those interests are different.

However, while another unspoken monster has something to do with it in some areas; that in itself is not racism, that's culture dynamics. Racism would be DENYING, OBFUSCATING or otherwise DELIBERATELY UNDERPERFORMING the same support for one group in favor of another, and I'll leave that up to whatever intiative MLB is serious about supporting or implementing to draw a conclusion from, as Bob succinctly questions. We can get involved, or wait and see.

2006-08-03 05:25:43
4.   Chyll Will
3 Sorry for making this into a thesis, but I get worked up sometimes and I don't stop to breathe >;)
2006-08-03 07:50:20
5.   Bob Timmermann
I thought it was very well-said.
2006-08-03 12:24:00
6.   Linkmeister
I agree with Bob. That's pretty comprehensive (I'm sure the social scientists could add something). Property's cost and best use and the number of participants necessary for baseball inhibit the game's growth in urban areas.

I wonder about places like Detroit, though (and I've never been there, but I see/read about it); from what I can tell it has lots of abandoned buildings which could be razed and turned into open lots if there were enough money and political will.

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