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Spreading their message
Truth be told, both men are doing their part to improve the lives of inner-city youths in central Florida through a baseball program called Weeks 2 Success. The name is indicative of a proud father who raised not one but two first-round Draft picks.
Weeks Sr. started the program 3 1/2 years ago to help fill what he views as a crisis-level coaching void in urban baseball. Weeks Jr. helps out financially, and along with his younger brother, Jemile — an infielder in the Oakland A’s system — makes the occasional visit to help inspire the kids.
“It started small, but it’s getting bigger and bigger,” Weeks Jr. said.
“He’s excited about getting kids aware about baseball. I just say my two cents here and there, but it’s my dad who’s doing the great thing.”
It’s working. Weeks Sr. had informally been coaching youngsters for years, but in 2007, he began a more formal program with a dozen or so kids. Now it’s up to 61 participants from 6 years old through high school, and more than half, according to Weeks Sr., are on their school’s honor rolls.
The program focuses on academics as much as baseball, a game most participants have never played. Kids play only a handful of organized games per month and spend the rest of the time learning the game — watching it, practicing it and talking about it. They are required to spend an hour a day reading, and also are asked to raise funds to keep the program going.
“That way, I’m not giving the kids anything for free, and they’re earning everything they do,” Weeks Sr. said. “I know poverty exists in America, but I know there is a way to beat it by teaching kids do things for themselves. That’s been my experience.
“Compared to the other sports, baseball is a great tool. You have to have a great deal of patience. You have to go through drills that may not be too much fun, but you need them to get better. There are so many life lessons that come out of baseball that you just can’t get anywhere else.”
When they do play games, a DJ sets up at the field to make announcements and play music. Weeks Sr. encourages kids who are interested in music to take the mic and become part of the show.
He has big plans for the future. He’s bringing the nation’s largest inner-city baseball tournament to Orlando, Fla., next summer, and is trying to rally support from civic officials in Orlando and from Major League Baseball’s Reviving Baseball in Inner Cities (RBI) program to make it even bigger. Weeks envisions more than 200 teams taking part and turning the event into a symposium on the challenges facing baseball in American inner cities.
“Major League Baseball recognizes that this is a problem,” Weeks Sr.
said. “There have been some great ballplayers to come out of inner cities in America: Lou Gehrig, Babe Ruth, Hank Aaron. All of these players were challenged at a young age.”
Weeks Jr. grew up a bit more comfortable than New York’s Gehrig or Baltimore’s Ruth or Mobile, Ala.’s Aaron. He was raised in suburban Orlando, his dad working for a nonprofit organization that distributed food to charitable organizations and his mom running a cleaning business.
Baseball-wise, Weeks was inspired by his fraternal grandfather, Victor Weeks, who in the 1940s played briefly in the Negro Leagues for the Newark Bears. Victor is blind now, the result of glaucoma, but still listens to Brewers games. Rickie learned his life lessons from his parents.
Weeks Jr. said they instilled a sense of community that he takes seriously today. He was honored in 2010 as the Brewers’ nominee for the Roberto Clemente Award, given annually to the player who combines a dedication to giving back to the community with outstanding skills on the baseball field, and then with the Brewers’ Michael Harrison Award for community service.
Weeks focuses most of his charitable efforts on children’s issues. In 2010 served as the honorary chair for the American Diabetes Association’s Black Tie Gala in Milwaukee, helping raise more than $100,000.
It’s a meaningful cause for Weeks. Three of his four grandparents live with diabetes.
“It’s prevalent in my family, and I know it’s prevalent in the whole black community, including a lot of kids,” Weeks said. “I love the causes with kids. I was the oldest child [of three], and they always like to say I’m an old soul or whatever. I guess that’s true. I like kids so much that I’m always so happy to help them out.
“My parents always made it known that once you get somewhere, you never forget where you came from. You give back as much as possible.”
His son’s commitment to charitable causes doesn’t surprise Weeks Sr.
“We brought him up in the church that way,” dad said. “The kids learned that when you give back to the community, positive things come back to you. I remember working in a ministry when the kids were young and going out to a very tough neighborhood and the kids were like, ‘Dad, why are we here?’
“I said, ‘Sometimes you have to give back to help those who don’t see the way.’ They learned there was a purpose behind what we were doing, that it was not in vain. And we can enjoy the things we have in life because we knew within ourselves that we gave back.”