by Clark Groome
There have probably been a billion words written about the great kids who made up Philadelphia’s Taney Dragons and Chicago’s Jackie Robinson West, the two Little League teams that captured the country’s imagination and heart as they played in the Little League World Series last month.
While all of what was written captured the kids, their impressive parent and coach support network and the purity of their endeavors, little if anything has been mentioned about what effect their presence and their popularity will have on their sport.
A little more than a year ago I wrote about proximate interviews with Seattle Mariners TV play-by-play broadcaster and Chestnut Hill Academy alumnus David Sims and Phillies president David Montgomery.
Sims, one of CHA’s first black graduates, was in Philadelphia to be honored with the school’s Roll of Fame Award, given to an alumnus for his outstanding contributions to his profession.
Part of our chat was about what was then a hot media topic: the significant reduction in the number of black players on Major League rosters. That attention was likely driven by the release of “42,” the terrific Jackie Robinson biopic that was all the rage.
Sims said that because baseball is a father-and-son sport, kids in urban black families, where the father is far too frequently absent, didn’t focus as much on baseball as they did on football and, especially, basketball.
He also noted, as did Montgomery, that if you were in a hurry to get to the “show,” it was faster to play football or basketball. Montgomery said “If you’re going to grab for a sport that gives you the quickest gratifica tion, you’re not going to go for the one that sends you to Williamsport and Lakewood and Reading.”
This all came back to me as I was interviewing Sims when he was in Philly to call the games his Mariners played against the Phillies in mid-August, the same time the Little Leaguers were dominating sports and news coverage.
Sims hopes that this summer’s Little League mania will energize city kids to rethink baseball as a sport to which to commit. Among other things, Taney’s pitcher Mo’ne Davis was on the cover of Sports Illustrated, something Sims described as “beautiful.”
He also said that he hopes this could be the re-energizing of baseball as a sport for city-dwelling minority kids.
“I hope [the attention given to Taney and Chicago] is not an asteroid flying across the sky and then you forget about it,” he said. “Hopefully it will be something that will be impactful, get more people involved.
He suggested that some of the impetus for this needs to come from Major League Baseball.
“Baseball has to do a better job promoting the product in general and specifically to African American players in the community,” he said. They’re crazy if they don’t capitalize on the Little League story. It’s a window of opportunity. They have to seize the moment.”
Montgomery, with whom I met a couple of days before the Phillies honored the Taney team and just three days before he took a medical leave, noted that the Phillies and the Chicago White Sox contributed to their cities’ teams and honored them after their return from Williamsport.
He also noted that the Phillies have more African American players than any team in the major leagues. He clearly views getting city kids involved with baseball as a priority and, typical of Montgomery and his devotion to his sport and to those Taney kids, his medical leave didn’t begin until the day after the Dragons were celebrated at Citizens Bank Park.