Our Readers Words: In Praise Of BASN, The Negro Leagues And Baseball

By Sargent Garry P. Phifer
Updated: February 18, 2006

NOTE: The following letter was recieved by the BASN staff on February 15, 2006 from United States Air Force Sargent Garry P. Phifer of Goldsboro, North Carolina, a lifelong baseball fan and one of many of a growing list of loyal followers and supporters of the Black Athlete Sports Network.

Greetings Mr. Anthony McClean, I have read your articles on the Black Athlete Sports Network webpage and it showed me that you might be a man with a passion for the game of baseball.

I wanted to send you a short note about the passion that I have for the game of baseball. I understand that you are a busy man but please take a few minutes of your time and read.

I grew up loving the game of baseball. My father was a high school coach at Benjamin Franklin High in the city of Philadelphia and can not tell you how much I loved the game as a child.

I am now a 22-year Active Duty Air Force Member living in Goldsboro, North Carolina. I was able to have a relationship with Negro Leaguer and Hall of Famer Buck Leonard from Rocky Mount prior to him passing.

I was able to attend his 91st birthday and was there for his funeral. It was great for my sons to meet him and get some understanding that baseball was not a given right back in his day.

He (Leonard) even made one last visit to the diamond prior to his passing to throw out the first pitch of a little league baseball game for a young man that had leukemia. What a joy it was for the player’s both black and white.

Now let me fast forward to present day. The reason that I choose to write you this morning, I found a way to do something about the lack of our youth even understanding the rich roots of our National Pastime.

It was a vision of the Mayor of Goldsboro (also the home of current Reds Manager Jerry Narron) over 20 months ago about an inner city baseball league.

I did some research and found out that Major League Baseball was trying to help with the RBI Program. However, it seems that it is only in some Major League Baseball cities.

Eventually, I was elected President of the League and we slowly started running things. Being that we are sandwiched between a couple of minor league franchises, we are a rich area for baseball. We launched out and with the help of churches, alumni chapters of our Greek Brothers and some local businessmen (both black and white) and formed The Jackie Robinson Baseball League.

We started out as a inner city league (with no registration fees or uniform fees) with about 75 players and a handful of coaches. The local newspaper supported our every move.

We had registration to include hotdogs and drink (free) and plenty information for the parents. To my surprise, there were no fathers.While we did not appeal to the African American Father initially, we had plenty of single mothers and grandmothers looking for something for their children to do for the summer and of course the free part was worth checking out.

We started out slow and ended the 2004 season with a lot of positive feedback. We gave the families that attended a old fashion baseball banquet with trimmings and trophies. We needed more volunteers and coaches.

I would spend the off-season recruiting some help. As the 2005 season approached we had no idea how the Lord would bring the increase. The seed had been planted and he sure watered it.

Now my wife, Carolyn, is my second hardest worker and we have taken this as another ministry. After the signups (again with the free hot dogs), I had to stop and take a deep breath. We had over 250 inner-city boys and girls ready to play some baseball.

The season was just completed and we uniformed 225 children during this season complete with pants, jerseys, hats and even gloves if they did not have them.

We had a former Negro Leaguer and Kinston, N.C. native Carl Long of the Birmingham Black Barons come out and talk with the kids during our All-Star game. We must educate the children, there is even some that call me and my wife Mr. and Mrs. Jackie Robinson.

However, we would have never made it without the Kappas, Omegas, Deltas, Alphas, Churches, Masonic Lodges and a giving community.

Our goal is to continue to plant seeds into our children, letting them know that you don’t have to be 6-foot-5 and 250 pounds to play baseball and colleges still have scholarships waiting on them.

Right here in the heart of North Carolina, the home of the CIAA and the MEAC, with schools like North Carolina A&T, Florida A&M, Howard and Hampton University, there are scholarships out there.

Not to include being drafted right out of high school like the young man that was picked number one in the 2005 Baseball Amateur Draft (Arizona’s Justin Upton) after his brother was the number two pick (Tampa’s B.J. Upton) two years ago from the Hampton Virginia Area.

I know that this Jackie Robinson Baseball League will continue to grow with the financial support of the fraternities, sororities and churches but our number one goal is to feed into the high school teams.

This past season the high school and middle school baseball program (which is now 98% black) had a combined record of 0-61. Just keeping the players on the field was a chore for the coaches.

However, I know that keeping something free and fun is hard, but we are going to trust in the Lord and he will continue to bring the increase.

I know that this was lengthy, but I wanted to share.

Thanks for listening. God Bless.

NOTE: Needless to say, we hear at BASN will keep our eyes and prayers focused on Sargent Phifer’s “pet project”.