If you took a trip to the….well, you’re probably more comfortable saying inner city, bad neighborhood, or even ghetto but I’m going to leave the politically correctness at the door. So, if you took a trip to the hoods in America, what sport do you think you’d see the kids playing? Basketball, more than likely, maybe a game of football in the street, possibly an unofficial and inaccurate 100m track match but definitely not any baseball. To spin a notorious Kanye West quote, “Most Black people don’t care about baseball.” Just like the real, infamous phrase spoken by Mr. West on national TV, some may think that quote is quite the hyperbole. It isn’t, but I wish it were and if you think I’m lying take a look through some MLB rosters and tell me what you see. Or don’t see.
The dream of being an NBA or NFL athlete goes much deeper than that for a lot of kids that grow up in the ‘hood. Actually, “deeper” may be too nice of a word. That childhood dream isn’t the only thing they have in mind if they make it to either league. They want to get out the hood and take their family with them. They want to live the glamorized life they see in hip hop videos. They want to make the top 10 plays list on SportsCenter. They want the extravagant chains, the fancy cars, the fame and fortune that come with being an athlete in the NFL and NBA.
You can get that from being an MLB player. Actually, more so because there’s no salary cap, so you can get as much money as an owner is willing to give you. But there’s one problem with playing baseball, there’s no instant gratification. Although, I think hitting a home run is greater than dunking on someone or catching a pass between two defenders for a touchdown and turning a 6-4-3 double play takes more skill than a no-look pass or a one-handed catch.
To want to be a baseball player, you have to love the sport. It’s a very inconsistent game, action wise. One minute you’re standing there, waiting to make a play on the ball, provided the player hits it. If he does, the action comes fast and furious. An infielder dives for the ball, gets up with cat-like quickness, throws across his body to an outstretched first baseman to get the runner out and this all happens in less than 10 seconds. But then, it’s back to just standing there and waiting for the same thing to happen.
With basketball and football, instant gratification is chronic. There’s always something happening. A great defensive play, an incredible shot, a phenomenal run, an electrifying punt return, those two sports definitely don’t lack for action. When kids watch television and see that, you think they want to play a sport that has them standing for minutes on end or one that has them running up and down, potentially doing spectacular plays? The days of the “Chicks Dig the Long Ball” era are far gone.
It’s very difficult to, quickly, put together a game of baseball no matter where you are. Now, you may be saying that kids in Central America certainly have no problems playing a “something from nothing” game of baseball with their tree sticks masquerading as bats and their makeshift gloves made from cardboard. Well, one, they’re in a poor country and two, so many of their native countrymen have made it to the big league that they’re a bit more motivated.
In a first world country like the United States where seeing African-Americans in Major League Baseball is like seeing athletes of Asian descent in the NFL, you have to look really close. When you don’t see your own doing something, you don’t think you can do it. So you think African-American kids in the hood will bring together a game from love and scraps? To play a game, you have to have a bat, a fielding glove, bases, a batting helmet and oh yeah, you should find a baseball diamond to play on. That’s a bit expensive and very time consuming and good luck trying to get 15 other kids to fill in every position on a moment’s notice.
When something is being thrown at you, it’s human nature to duck, cover up or do a feminine doggy paddle block thingamajig. When a baseball is hurled anywhere from 70-100mph at a baseball player, they’re expected to hit it back into play. Not just hit it into play but drive it as far as they can, even 450 ft back. Sports science has shown that the most difficult thing to do in sports is hit a baseball. Not a home run or a single/double/triple but simply making contact with it. I’m not saying that it’s easy to get into the NFL or the NBA but you can get into both leagues without being a great shooter or passer (Hi, Tim.). Unless you’re a pitcher in the American League (Pitchers don’t bat in that league), you have to know how to hit the ball just to make the team.
Having to make a decision in 0.4 seconds (Hi, Derek) about whether to swing or not at a pitch that could be a sinker, slider, curveball splitter or fastball that is flying toward you at speeds in the 90mph range is incredibly difficult to do and not for everybody. Now, don’t go to the negative end of the spectrum and think that I’m saying that African-American kids don’t have the mental capacity to learn how to hit a baseball. But taking the time to dissect pitches and how to swing on different pitches doesn’t appeal to kids who may be casual fans looking to get into the sport.
You might be asking yourself many things right now. Aren’t these issues that any race of kids would have? These seem like odds that can be overcome, so why point them out? Why are you singling out African-American kids and in the ‘hood, especially? Alright, let me answer those questions that I just KNOW you were asking. Yes, these would be issues that any child of any ethnicity would have with picking up the game of baseball. I brought them up because like I said earlier, these are issues that a casual fan would have. Not a true fan of the game because it is something that they love to do. If you decided to pick up the game of baseball on a whim, would you really want to go through all that? Buying all the supplies, gear, finding all those people to play when you can easily buy a basketball and go to a nearby court or buy a football and go to a field and throw it around?
This will be a very simple answer. Yes, these are odds that can be overcome. ANY odds can be overcome. I didn’t bring them up to say that they’re insurmountable; I’m just giving you reasons why African-American kids may not find the sport appealing as a career.
Now, to the last question. Why am I singling out African-American kids and their living background? Yes, I know that not all African-American people live in the ‘hood and I’m an example. I bring up the living background because when you look at a lot of African-American athletes in the NFL and NBA, most of them came from those neighborhoods and they chose basketball and/or football, so I’m exploring why baseball was not an option. I focused on African-American kids from America because the population of African-Americans in MLB is 8%. We’re missing in action from baseball in our own country and I’d like to see us get back. I love all the athletes in baseball today but I’d love to see another Jackie Robinson, Bob Gibson or Ken Griffey, Jr. We don’t have to dominate baseball’s population but to have a good showing would mean wonders for baseball’s popularity in the future.