Garfield Park is renowned as a breeding ground for great basketball players and also youth football, but the game of baseball is beginning to make its presence felt with the addition of the Garfield Park Little League.
Garfield Park is renowned as a breeding ground for great basketball players and also youth football, but the game of baseball is beginning to make its presence felt with the addition of the Garfield Park Little League. The league began three years ago and now roughly 250 boys and girls between the ages of 5 and 16 participate. It hasn’t been easy to sell the game of baseball in an area that loves hoops so much, but the coaches and administrators of the league are passionate about the game and want others to like and respect it as well. “Black people have such a rich history in baseball,” said coach Chris Allen. “And it’s not just Jackie Robinson. You’ve got the Negro Leagues and Josh Gibson and Satchel Paige. But it’s a dwindling number right now and it’s not the dominant sport in the hood.” One of the primary reasons why baseball isn’t as popular as some other sports in the inner city is that it’s a difficult game to master, and becoming adept at it takes a lot of time and patience, said Frank Brim, director of player development for First Round Baseball Academy and Garfield Park Little League. “It takes work to excel in baseball and our kids a lot of the time are afraid of hard work, they want to be successful right away,” Brim said. But success on the baseball field can come in many subtle ways that take a while for a youngster to appreciate. Hitting a sacrifice fly that scores a runner or bunting successfully to advance a runner are just as important as getting a hit. In baseball it’s all about the team, not the individual, and it’s a learning process for kids that live in a me-first culture. “It’s a team sport and it’s not a game of instant gratification,” said coach Shawn Walker. “You must become a student of the game and you must study the game and practice consistently.” The hard work that the Garfield Park Little Leaguers have put in paid big dividends recently when they won the first annual Urban Initiative Illinois State Baseball Jamboree at Jackie Robinson Park. The newcomers from the west side knocked off Horner Park and a Jackie Robinson team en-route to the tournament championship. The win was a strong indicator that the Garfield Park League is on the right track both athletically and emotionally. “They were behind but they continued to play their butts off,” said Allen. “There was no whining or crying – there was a demeanor, an etiquette and a culture of good baseball. I believe we’ve made tremendous strides as far as teaching the kids the game.” Learning the proper way to run the base paths, as well as field and hit are a high priority the coaches say, but even more important are the character building and manners that can be taught through the game of baseball. Brim said that people he’s come in contact with noticed the quality behavior in his players. “Everywhere we go people always say ‘your children are well-mannered,’ as if they don’t expect that because our kids are from the west side,” said Brim. “But that’s been a point of emphasis since day one.” “One thing we’re trying to teach is the etiquette of a baseball player. There is a certain demeanor that you have to have on the baseball field,” Allen said. And that baseball etiquette pays off in other areas of life. It can lead to a better all-around attitude that sets the stage for getting better grades and avoiding trouble. “There’s a culture in baseball that doesn’t exist in other sports. Baseball players don’t get in as much trouble as other athletes and it’s because of the discipline you have to have,” Brim said. The coaches also stress that they have a no profanity policy that applies to both the coaching staff and the players. “Baseball players are astute and articulate,” Allen said. “There’s no place for profanity on the baseball field. A baseball player goes about his business – he takes batting practice, takes grounders and prepares for the game.” In addition to winning and losing and character building, baseball can open up doors both athletically and educationally for kids that stick with it. “It can open up doors for kids, you can go to a division two or division three school, and you can also play in the minor leagues. And you don’t have to be great to make it to the major leagues,” Walker said. “If you’re coachable, and if you work hard, that can get you to the major leagues.” But right now Garfield Park Little League wants to keep building the game of baseball on the west side, and continue to develop young boys and girls baseball skills and overall character. The progress will be gradual, but Walker says he’s happy to be a part of the process. “We are the building blocks,” he said. “We might not reap the benefits of it now, but when you look back you will see that you were the start of building something important for the community.” Copyright 2010 Chicago Defender