Black Tourneys Ttitlists Redefine ‘Group Effort’

By Patrick Obley
Updated: August 6, 2008

SOUTH CAROLINA — When the sky opened up Saturday night during the fifth annual Bobby Bonds Symposium at Benedict College, the fate of the first Black World Series was in the balance.

Throughout the evening, players, coaches and parents voiced their concerns during the gathering. The consensus: Blacks need baseball and historically black colleges need players. If youngsters can be persuaded to stick with the sport, a college education is within reach.

Attendees hoped this first Black World Series (for the 12-and-younger age group), held in conjunction with the symposium and the Metropolitan Junior Baseball League’s Inner-City Championships (for older age groups), can be an important step in reviving the baseball pipeline to HBCUs.

Teams arrived in Columbia for both tournaments from throughout the country, from as far as Oakland, Detroit, and Miami. Two teams came from the Bahamas. For all, funding was scarce and the trip was made with little more than lint remaining in their pockets.

They stared out at the torrential rain on Saturday night and prayed for it to stop.

It didn’t.

On Sunday morning, the fields at Meadow Lake were unplayable. The players were crestfallen and the MJBL’s executive director, William Forrester, was ready cancel the rest of the tournaments.

“The parents wouldn’t let that happen,” Forrester said. “They rolled up their sleeves and worked on the fields themselves.”

So the finals were played later Sunday on the waterlogged fields off Polo Road, with the Carolina Big Cats, out of Greensboro, N.C., facing the hometown Carolina Smokers for the Black World Series title.

The Big Cats prevailed 11-9 in the weird and wooly fashion commonly found in 12-and-under baseball.

The Smokers managed their nine runs on one hit. They reached base on walks, hit batsmen and errors, and they then stole bases with abandon, coming home on wild pitches or passed balls.

The Big Cats scored the old-fashioned way, pounding eight hits. Elijah Fuller led off the fourth inning with a home run, triggering a five-run outburst that gave the Big Cats an 11-4 lead. Tyrone Woolard and Demarcues Whitney each had a double among their two hits.

The Smokers chipped away with a run in the fifth and four more in the sixth (and final) inning. They managed to get the go-ahead run to the plate with two outs before a ground ball ended the game.

Afterward, coaches for both teams said they realized their teams were a part of something special.

“We took honor in representing the state of South Carolina,” said Smokers coach Avery Jackson, who also is an assistant baseball coach at Lower Richland. “I felt it was a great thing and it’s easy to see the good things (the MJBL) is trying to do for the black youth, not just for South Carolina, but for America.”

The Big Cats are a part of a well-developed program based in Greensboro. Coach Reggie Tatum said his 12-year-olds had been playing together for six years.

Two other teams from the program played for Inner-City Classic titles Sunday. The Greensboro Bisons won the 15-under title while the Triad All-Stars lost to the Maryland Black Barons in the 18-under championship game.

“You usually don’t see teams that are a majority or all black, so we were excited to be a part of this,” Tatum said. “As soon as we found out we were going to see teams from Detroit and the Bahamas, we were automatically in it.”

What no one knows for certain is how many more Black World Series will follow. Forrester said his 18-year-old non-profit organization is expanding, but corporate sponsorship is vital if the MJBL is to survive beyond the next three or four years.