Following a defiant seventh-round knockout of previously unbeaten Jose Pedraza (22-1, 12...
eLOS ANGLES, CALIFORNIA –growing up in the Bronx, my mother went out searching for a new venture for her little boy to pursue. she’d sent me to daily summer camp in mount Vernon and to egghead schools in the south Bronx, and did things to stimulate my social being.
there was the athletic side of me that she’d yet to tap into, but she found the oasis soon enough and off i was. just a quick hit on how the neighborhood was divided: my sector was african-american and puerto rican, and it was bordered only a few blocks from an italian neighborhood. one of those tough Bronx italian neighborhoods you saw in the movies. one of those tough Bronx italian neighborhoods that wasn’t very welcoming to anyone who wasn’t italian. however, that’s where the little league headquarters was located, and we were going there to get me my new uniform and start my baseball career.
most of the league was white, regardless of what the nationality was, and my team, the 369th Vets, was peppered with black and puerto rican kids. segregation of a sort. we had the only two black coaches in the league as well, mr. brown and mr. clarke. mr. brown was the lead coach for the league’s all-star team, which i had no idea i would be invited on to in my final year of little league ball. he reluctantly invited me. as he would tell me later, “i didn’t want to subject you as the only black player on this team to any stupidity. these are all good kids, but things happen.” he finished with “but you’re the best centerfielder we have in this league. best arm, hits the hell out of the ball. you go in there and show why you’re the best in the business.”
my first day in all-star practice, i came in with my Vets pants on and cleats with no socks. the other teammates gave me the immediate nickname of “barefootin’”, and things were focused soon to the business at hand, which was to get ourselves on a long summer journey through many teams, en route to williamsport, pennsylvania.
the walk from the practice field to our neighborhood was a lengthy one, but we ALL walked it without incident every day. there was an interruption to the program one day when one of the kids suggested that we play, “beat up the black kid”, a game i obviously couldn’t play. he was kidding, and admitted as such even before the other players let him know that it was a bad judgment call on his part to even suggest it.
it was the only incident of its kind.
we marched on through quite a few teams, and made it out of the state before eventually falling to a team in michigan, but during our run we maneuvered as a team. a colorless unit with one common goal. the parents gave me loud cheers when we were introduced on P.A. systems, and the adoration parlayed into invites to dinner and other social gatherings. i had my own satisfactory social schedule, so i wasn’t able to attend most of what i was invited to, but did my best to frequent many of the gigs.
in our last game, i realized that we’d gone through a lot together, and we were feeling sorrow and anger together. we were 12 year-old kids who had had their dreams of going to the little league world series squashed.
thinking about it now: some 20 years ago, the opportunity for me to be a part of something like this where the requisite didn’t have to be 14 other dark faces giving me the eligibility to chase a dream.
today should be the start of celebrating sport not for its constant indiscretions, outlandish contracts, silly quotes, or other things the powers that present sports give us on a daily basis, but for the strides that have been made to make sports a togetherness event with people of different races and creeds joining for one common goal. black goaltenders, or hockey players aren’t looked at as such an oddity anymore, except by ourselves, which is a strange happening in itself, and we’ve reached an era where a sophomore QB is the toast of the town because of his unlimited talent, and not because of his skin.
the transition is still slow, and the structure isn’t perfect by a long shot, but it’s getting there, and i think Dr. King would be proud that things are at least still moving forward.
Happy King Day, y’all.