How Baseball Can Save the World: Part Two

I love baseball. I live. I work. Baseball’s always there. Baseball occupies such a significant part of my mind that I honestly don’t even think about it anymore. I don’t separate baseball from the rest of my daily existence. Baseball’s  just there, streaming to the front of my brain on a continuous loop of stats, schedules, replays, images, memories, and friends as I go about my day.

Growing up, I played baseball from the time I was 5 years old through high school. I played on a couple different neighborhood teams at a time, a few private traveling teams, and a host of pickup teams at school, in yards, and in open green spaces around town. Like today, I never thought as a kid about baseball separately from my daily life.

 ***

I met LaVonte in March of 2013 at Valois Diner in Chicago’s Hyde Park. We shared breakfast and conversation about baseball, our heroes, and how to improve communities. We talked about race and society in Chicago and the differences between White Sox fans living on either side of the Dan Ryan Expressway that runs along the left-center field wall of U.S. Cellular Field.

Just a few city blocks to the Southeast of U.S. Cellular, LaVonte manages a youth baseball organization that he founded called Lost Boyz, Inc. Lost Boyz offers youth baseball to boys in Chicago’s South Shore neighborhood.

In a neighborhood with a struggling local economy, gang violence, and underfunded public schools, Lost Boyz is more than a baseball team. For thirty boys in particular, Lost Boyz provides gang and violence prevention, mentorship and leadership development, after school programming, and an extended family and community network far beyond learning how to steal a base or how to throw a strike from center field to nail a runner at home plate.

Baseball is an entirely different experience for the boys of Lost Boyz than it was for me growing up. For me, baseball forced me outside and to be active. It helped me make friends. It was a skill and a hobby that I could learn and be good at.

For the young boys and future leaders of Lost Boyz, baseball is all those things and much more. Baseball is a tool for survival.

 ***

In Baltimore in November 2012, I met a man I’ll never forget outside Oriole Park at Camden Yards. He told me he hadn’t eaten in three days. We spoke for twenty minutes about the community he’d grown up in in East Baltimore. And then we talked about our love of Orioles baseball.

The encounter wasn’t the first of this kind in my life. It was not the first consideration I’d given to the struggles and realities of urban communities and of the men and women who must survive them. But it was the first time that baseball featured prominently.

And like the different experiences between the boys of Lost Boyz and myself as a kid, I could see that baseball continues to feature differently in the minds of men like this man than it does for me. This man is a baseball fan, too—an Orioles fan like me. But by necessity, his interaction with the game of baseball has to be different than mine.

On the day I met him he told me hadn’t eaten in three days. Forget baseball blogs, game watches, fantasy baseball, or weekends at the batting cages, this man’s immediate thought that morning was about where he could get a sandwich.

Frightfully, perhaps his first thought was about whether he was going to be able to eat at all that day. Quite probably there are days when this man doesn’t think about baseball at all. He can’t. He doesn’t have that kind of time.

As a fan who follows the game I love and grew up on, these are frightening and frustrating discrepancies. To consider that baseball is a continuous privilege I don’t even think about. For others, baseball is a privilege separate and only ever secondary to surviving.

Baseball didn’t cause the problem.
One in Three Young People in Cities with Major League Baseball Teams Live in Poverty:

That means that one in three young people in baseball’s most historic cities struggle to be able to prepare for college and careers in underfunded schools. That means that one in three kids in baseball cities are susceptible to violence and gangs. That means that one in three young people in urban baseball cities must acquire practical skills, search out healthy foods, stay safe and warm, and emulate heroes and leaders in spaces in which these resources are not always accessible.

Baseball didn’t cause these problems.

But baseball can be a force against these problems: Baseball can, should, and will support organizations and the men and women who work toward the development of their home communities: Especially the development of communities through young people.

Experience Baseball is out to create a public benefit organization that focuses on Simple Giving, Quality Baseball Programming, and Effective Community Relationships in pro baseball cities. We’re on a mission to improve the quality of life for young people in neighborhoods home to professional baseball. Through our journey, we hope to inspire new knowing, giving, and community leadership among baseball fans.

Donate to Experience Baseball Be a Philanthropist