FOUR YEARS OF THE HARTLAND CHRONICLES: The Official Anniversary Post

What I’ve been doing on this blog and elsewhere for the past ten years. Photo courtesy of writing cooperative.com

 

COMMEMORATING FOUR YEARS AGO TO THE DAY THAT I STARTED THIS BLOG

July 7, 2014.

After writing various articles covering various topics that hold my interest – sports, politics, music, racial issues (being an African-American male), being on the Autism Spectrum – on Triond.com, which doesn’t exist anymore, and Hubpages.com, where I actually got a small royalty check for my efforts,

Much as was the case with my sports blogging, it was beyond time for me to really do my own thing; start my own blog where I can write what I want, and how I want.

I know it’s a cliché, and I’m not a fan of clichés, but…

It’s quite hard to believe that’s it’s been four years ago today that Hartland Chronicles began.

Quite a bit has happened in my life in those four years…

  • Reaching my fifties.
  • Continuing my walk with God, as I had accepted Jesus as my personal savior a couple of years before.
  • Starting my own sports blog, SoCal Sports Annals (Here’s the link: please check it out, I think you’ll like it: http://www.SoCalSportsAnnals.Wordpress.com)
  • Starting to live a healthier lifestyle due to the stroke scare that I had in October of 2014, when my blood pressure was 300/200, and…
  • Working on and beginning the final stages of editing and self-publishing my book describing my struggles with being on the autism spectrum, “WALKING ON EGGSHELLS”.

Which if I hadn’t started doing cardio and other exercising on a regular basis, plus given up  high sugar and high sodium things like pizza, hot dogs, lunch meats, red meat, donuts, and mainstream fast food restaurants like McDonald’s, Burger King and Jack-In-The-Box, I might not be sitting here writing this today.

More than anything else, this blog has been a good vehicle to vent and get my feelings and opinions out there.

Having Asperger’s in a non-Asperger’s world, while (with God’s help) I think I’ve improved my behavior and interactions with people, probably due to age,

There are still some once-in-a-blue-moon times when thoughts of hurting myself enter my mind, particularly when someone tries to interact with me like they see me as an inferior being, as in bossing me around or getting on my case over something that’s honestly not worth getting on anyone’s case about.

And it will probably always bother me at least a tiny bit when something unexpected happens that I don’t like.

 

When I feel bad – I don’t want to call it a depression – it always make me feel good to look at wide open scenery like this…

 

There’s something else I want to mention…

Remember at the end of the 2003 movie Peter Pan, when the narrator talks about how Peter had a lot of joys, but in looking at Wendy and her family’s reunion after returning to London from Neverland, he was “…looking at the one joy for which he must forever be barred.”

Looking at my life and many if not most of my peers, while I don’t in any way compare myself to Peter (I never wanted to always be a little boy, and I obviously can’t fly!), I can definitely relate to what that narrator said.

While it would have been nice to have someone who was attracted to me and cared about me to the point of wanting a relationship and family with me, I know that that would be too confusing and overwhelming for me to be ultimately successful in.

The same goes with having children, as much as I like them; every time I hear a baby crying and fussing, I always think,

“That’s why I’m not having kids.”

In short, I know that marriage and family is not for everyone, and is certainly not for me.

I couldn’t handle arguments or fights with the spouse, and I know I couldn’t handle the various issues that parents have with their kids.

This is something that I understand and accept about myself.

It’s a difference from the accepted norm in society, but there you are.

Outside of that, I know full well that I am beyond blessed inasmuch as I have a roof over my head in a town and neighborhood that I like (which I call “Convenient City” because almost everything I need is within a 10-to-15 minute walk), electricity, water and food to eat – unlike so many other folks as the homeless situation is more desperate than ever.

This is something that I thank God for.

And this blog, while I wish more people would read it, is also something that I thank God for, and which I plan on continuing for the foreseeable future as I have thought of more personal things to write about.

It’s been a good four years, I’d be a fool to think otherwise.

I only hope that the next four years, for this blog as well as my sports blog – my life in general, actually – are as decent as these past four.

With God’s help and blessings, I’m optimistic that they will.

 

 

Another illustration of my life’s work this past decade…

 

FORTY YEARS AGO TODAY: My Very First Time At Dodger Stadium

The home of the team that I’ve followed for well over forty years, with a nice view of downtown Los Angeles in the background. Photo courtesy of primetimeshuttle.com

 

COMMEMORATING THE MILESTONE ANNIVERSARY OF A VERY IMPORTANT MOMENT IN ANY BASEBALL FAN’S LIFE

Sunday, June 18, 1978.

The day I turned eleven years old, having just finished the fifth grade.

And a day that I was excitedly anticipating, being that my obsession for baseball and the Dodgers – due to their appearance in the World Series eight months before – was percolating, because that was the day I went to Dodger Stadium and saw the team that my family, particularly my grandparents, had followed since their Brooklyn days, for the very first time.

For a young African-American boy with the requisite 1970s disco-style afro who was tall for his age, approaching six feet, you can imagine the feelings going through me as I woke up that warm and sunny morning.

I made it a point to carefully dress in my baseball-style 3/4 sleeve shirt with the Dodger logo in the front, plus the mesh-backed adjustable Dodger blue cap with the interlocking “LA” logo on the front, as my mother and I left our tiny apartment in Santa Monica to go pick up the three cousins whose names I picked from a cap to go with me; she had gotten a total of six tickets on the field level down the right field line, and we all piled up into her Opal Cadet to journey east on the I-10, making a left on the 110, heading toward downtown L.A. to what then-Dodgers manager Tommy Lasorda called “Blue Heaven On Earth”.

Contrary to what some might be imagining, the trip was fairly quick; I don’t remember running into any major traffic jams as we turned left at the Dodger Stadium exit, drove a few more minutes to Chavez Ravine, and there it was!

Any kid seeing a major sports facility like Dodger Stadium  for the first time in person would be very impressed at its majesty, and I was no exception, though interestingly enough the size of the 56,000-seat ballpark wasn’t the only thing that I noticed.

The bright colors of the seats, which seemingly reached up halfway to Heaven, ranging from bright red on the top deck to orange on the loge (second deck) section to the blue-hued reserved section in between, was what I noticed the most as one of my cousins exclaimed how he wanted to see Steve Garvey, who was the Dodgers’ All-American go-to hero among the kids.

After my mom’s friend, who I considered an aunt, joined us, Mom proceeded to hand us kids the tickets, giving us the inevitable lecture about staying together and behaving, before we proceeded to the gates.

 

 

Don Sutton, who I saw pitch a six-hit shutout that memorable first Dodger game. Photo courtesy of pinterest.com

 

 

It was Helmet Weekend, meaning that everyone ages 14 and under got a free replica Dodger batting helmet (that was a popular thing to wear in those days), and of course I was excited when I was handed that blue plastic head covering, putting it on over my cap right away, my afro sticking out underneath.

We then headed for our seats, Mom promising us that we would stay all nine innings, and as the Montreal Expos (now the Washington Nationals, having moved to the nation’s capitol in 2005) were the Dodgers’ opponents, nobody could miss the large red and white maple-leaf Canadian flag flying next to the red, white and blue stars and stripes beyond the center field fence.

Our seats were not far from the Expos’ bullpen, and I remember one of my cousins asking either Expos pitcher Stan Bahnsen or one of their coaches for an autograph as they were walking by us, one of them saying, “I’ve gotta go to work!”

Which we were all incredulous about, going “What?!” Playing baseball is a job?!”

Little did we know; the naivete of youth coming into play there.

I also vividly recall “O, Canada”, that country’s national anthem, being sung before our “Star Spangled Banner” with the Dodgers then taking the field and getting going as the organ in the press box played “Charge!”

And of course I enjoyed the Dodger (Hot) Dogs and chocolate ice cream cups that I consumed.

 

 

Davey Lopes, one of the heroes of that 1st Dodger game I saw, standing 2nd from right with the other members of baseball’s longest playing infield: Ron Cey (far left), Bill Russell (2nd from left), and Steve Garvey (far right). Photo courtesy of twitter.com

 

 

I KNOW you want my reminisces about how the game unfolded – here goes…

Over the four decades since that day, the three details about the game that never left my memory banks were Don Sutton, the Dodgers’ ace, pitching a shutout,

– Dodger second baseman Davey Lopes stealing four bases,

– One of my cousins calling out Dodger right fielder Lee Lacy’s name, yelling “Lee! Lee!” between pitches mid-game and having him turn his head in our direction and (I’m sure) thinking, “Who the hell is calling my name?!”

– And the Dodgers beating the Expos 5-0, putting the finishing touches on the most memorable birthday of my childhood.

As for any more details, I made it a point to research that game online recently, downloading and printing the box score.

What I found was very informative and memory-inducing…

  • Don Sutton gave up six hits, walking one and striking out six in hurling his complete game gem, though I was surprised that it only evened his record to 6-6 and lowered his earned run average to 4.29; apparently he had not gotten off to a good start that season.
  • Along with his four stolen bases, Davey Lopes also went 3-for-4, earning him Co-Player of the Game honors with Sutton in the middle of what was the best season of his life, him upping his batting average to .320 that day.
  • Me, Mom, her friend, and my three cousins among the 41,769 fans in attendance that day,
  • Sutton’s Expos counterpart, Wayne Twitchell, having a bad day as he didn’t even last five innings, walking five Dodgers while not striking out anybody, and doing a terrible job at holding runners on base as Lopes went nuts on him, and…
  • (VERY significant) having three future members of the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, NY on the field – Sutton, plus the Expos’ Andre Dawson and Tony Perez, who was one of the stars on Cincinnati’s “Big Red Machine” before being traded to Montreal in 1977.

TO STATE THE OBVIOUS…

That first Dodger game set the tone for a lifetime of involvement in baseball and softball for me as I joined the Santa Monica’s Sunset Little League the following spring, spending five mediocre years as a kid just trying to have fun, and eventually spending roughly twenty years as a baseball and softball coach on the youth level as well as continuing to play pick-up softball throughout college and to this day.

As for Dodger Stadium, I would go on to see nearly sixty more games at that place over the next four decades, fifty of them Dodger games – including this past June 10th, when I watched the Dodgers beat the Atlanta Braves 7-2 from the top deck seats,

In addition to (I think) eight games featuring my collegiate alma mater, UCLA, taking on crosstown rival USC in the Dodger Stadium College Baseball Classic, which the Dodgers host every March and which has turned into quite the event in the Crosstown Rivalry, sitting near the dugout on the field level.

Which considering the prices being charged for everything at that stadium these days is the only time I get to sit so close to the action now.

And I have had the honor of being on the field three times, once in the outfield during a “fans playing catch” event after the Dodgers played the Angels the day before my 40th birthday in 2007 – you can imagine the thrill I got doing that,

And behind home plate twice while playing with the UCLA Alumni Band, providing pre-game entertainment for the Dodgers’ “UCLA Day”  games in 2011 and 2012 – again, great thrills!

It has gotten to the point where I can give tours of the place, as I have the distinction of sitting in each section of Dodger Stadium at least once during that forty-year span.

The best way to sum up all of this…

I feel like I made a lifelong friend on that 11th birthday of mine.

At least, that’s how I feel every time I make that left turn on Vin Scully Ave. (it was called Elysian Park Ave. on that first visit) and go up those two hills before seeing the stadium lights.

Since it all happened forty years ago today, it’s only fitting that I give homage to this personal watershed life experience.

 

 

The official team photo of the 1978 Los Angeles Dodgers, who I saw that memorable birthday in 1978. Photo courtesy of baseballhall.org

 

 

THE ALL TIME, ALL AFRICAN-AMERICAN BASEBALL TEAM (According To Me)

(From left) Roy Campanella, Don Newcombe, and Jackie Robinson, a trio of great Dodgers who are also three of my choices for this all-time team. Photo courtesy of si.com

 

LISTING SOME OF THE GREATEST PEOPLE WHO EVER PLAYED BASEBALL

This is a conjuring of an all-time team that I have wanted to do for a while.

As Major League Baseball is still struggling to increase the number of African-Americans among its 30 teams – the percentage is currently at 8% (which is an improvement from last season),

And as an African-American for whom baseball has been my favorite sport for pretty much my entire life,

I thought it was only appropriate, and a long time coming, for me to list my all-time African-American baseball team.

There will inevitably be some outstanding legends who will be left off my 25-man roster, which consists of Negro League stars who never got the opportunity to play in the Majors as well as big league legends whose names are all over the record books.

But that’s OK; I welcome the debate.

So here it is, my list of the 25 greatest black men who ever played baseball, by position – including a ten-man pitching staff and reserves as well as starters (listed below)…

 

  • Catcher:   JOSH GIBSON.   The Greatest Catcher Ever.  A lifetime batting average of over .350. Hit nearly 800 home runs in his career according to his Hall of Fame plaque (though with all the barnstorming I’ll bet it was well over 800),  while playing for the Homestead Grays and the Pittsburgh Crawfords.  I would personally take him over Johnny Bench, Yogi Berra, or anyone else behind the plate.
  • First Baseman:   BUCK LEONARD.   Called “The Black Lou Gehrig”. Played for the Homestead Grays for 17 years, with a lifetime average of .320.
  • Second Baseman:  JACKIE ROBINSON.   For reasons that are SO obvious, if I have to explain…
  • Shortstop:  JOHN HENRY “POP” LLOYD.   Considered the first black baseball star, started with the Negro League’s Cuban X Giants in 1906 and played on various teams for 27 years. Was called “The Black Honus Wagner”, which Wagner stated he was honored by. None other than Babe Ruth said that he was the greatest ballplayer ever.
  • Third Baseman:   JUDY JOHNSON.  Played SO well in the Negro Leagues for 17 years, mostly for the Philadelphia Hilldales. The Philadelphia A’s’ legendary manager Connie Mack stated that he would have gladly signed him up if not for his skin color.
  • Left Field:   RICKEY HENDERSON.  The Greatest Lead-Off Hitter Ever.  Stole more bases (1,406), hit more lead off home runs (81), and scored more runs (2,295) than anyone who ever played the game. How could I possibly NOT include him in this all-time starting lineup?
  • Center Fielder:  WILLIE MAYS.  My choice for the greatest baseball player who ever lived. In the top ten in almost every hitting category. The reason why, as a longtime Los Angeles Dodgers fan, I don’t hate the San Francisco Giants – and considering the big Dodger-Giant rivalry, I’m probably the only Dodger fan who feels that way, because this legend was THAT great!
  • Right Fielder:   HENRY AARON.  MLB’s all-time RBI leader (2,297), and still in the eyes of many baseball fans the true all time home run leader. I personally consider Hank Aaron the classiest ballplayer of all time, for all the racist hell he went through in breaking Babe Ruth’s record of 714 homers.
  • Starting Pitcher:  SATCHEL PAIGE.   The Greatest Pitcher Ever.  His fastball was said to reach 105 miles an hour in his prime. Was SO extraordinary, he was able to win Rookie of the Year honors as a 42-year old with the Cleveland Indians in 1948 after having such an epic run with (mostly) the Kansas City Monarchs.

 

“The Father of Black Baseball”, Andrew Rube Foster. Photo courtesy of espnfrontrow.com

 

All right, having listed my starting nine of this all-time black baseball team, here’s the rest of my 25-man roster, starting with the rest of the pitching staff…

Starting Rotation:

  • BOB GIBSON – The St. Louis Cardinals’ best pitcher ever. Recorded the lowest earned run average in a season with his 1.12 in 1968. Was arguably one of the meanest pitchers for how he intimidated batters. Was so tough, he once continued to pitch after a line drive broke his leg.
  • DON NEWCOMBE – The best pitcher from the Dodgers’ Brooklyn days, and along with former manager Tommy Lasorda the Dodgers’ last links to that era; I had the honor to meet this man and get his autograph a few years ago. It’s an utter outrage that he’s not in the Hall of Fame!
  • VIDA BLUE – Arguably the biggest pitching star of the early 1970’s. Was one of the leaders of the Oakland Athletics’ dynasty of that period when they won back-to-back-to-back World Series.
  • FERGUSON JENKINS – One of only four pitchers to ever record over 3,000 strikeouts and less than 1,000 walks, this Hall of Famer for (mostly) the Chicago Cubs and the Texas Rangers is perhaps the best ballplayer to come out of Canada, and certainly the best pitcher.

Relievers (yes, I know they were starters, but this is to fill out the staff):

  • Closer:  LEE SMITH – One of the dominant closers of the 1980’s for mostly the Cubs, he had the all-time save record (478) until first Trevor Hoffman and then Mariano Rivera broke it.
  • JIM “MUDCAT” GRANT – The first African-American pitcher in the American League to win twenty games and to win a World Series game, done with the Minnesota Twins in 1965.
  • DOCK ELLIS – The Pittsburgh Pirates’ best pitcher in the early 70s, an essential part of their 1971 championship. Was particularly famous for pitching a no-hitter while on LSD against the San Diego Padres in 1970.
  • JAMES RODNEY (J.R.) RICHARD – One of my favorite pitchers as a kid! One of the guys that put the Houston Astros on the map in the 70s; imposing at 6′ 8″, threw blazing heat to the tune of being the first National League right hander to strike out 300 batters in a season. His career-ending, life-threatening stroke, suffered in 1980, was tragic.
  • “CYCLONE/SMOKEY” JOE WILLIAMS – Next to Satchel Paige, Williams was the greatest Negro League hurler, mostly for the New York Lincoln Giants in the 1910s and early 20s, and the Homestead Grays from the mid-20s to the early 1930s. SIGNIFICANT FACT: The only time Williams and Paige faced each other, in 1930, he beat Paige 1-0.

 

The Los Angeles Dodgers’ Matt Kemp playing on Jackie Robinson Day, wearing his number. Photo courtesy of likrot.com

 

These seven guys make up the rest of my all-time black baseball team.

Most regretfully, there were plenty of players that I was forced to leave off as if I listed every deserving star, there would be at least fifty men on this team.

I do have an “honorable mention” list;  guys that, though there was no room on my 25-man team, it would have been a crime to not give them a shout-out.

They will be mentioned after I list the remaining players on this all-time black baseball roster…

  • Catcher:  ROY CAMPANELLA – A true legendary Dodger along with Jackie Robinson, winning three National League MVP awards in a five-year span from 1951-55 and, along with Jackie and Don Newcombe, was a leader of those “Boys of Summer” in Brooklyn.
  • First Baseman/Shortstop:  ERNIE BANKS – “Mr. Cub”. “Let’s Play Two!” The greatest Chicago Cub of all time, starring at two positions. A Hall of Famer, hitting 512 home runs, it was a shame that he passed away before his Cubs broke that 108-year drought and won that unforgettable World Series in 2016.
  • Second Baseman:  JOE MORGAN – Along with Pete Rose, Johnny Bench and Tony Perez, the Cincinnati Reds would not have been the “Big Red Machine” of the 1970s without this two-time MVP. Bill James, in his Historical Baseball Abstract, named him the greatest second baseman of all time ahead of legends like Eddie Collins and Rogers Hornsby.
  • Shortstop:  OZZIE SMITH – “The Wizard”. The greatest fielding shortstop ever. Wowed St. Louis Cardinal fans in particular with his incredibly acrobatic plays in the 1980s. His work with the leather – 13 Gold Gloves won between 1980 and 1992 – alone puts him on this all-time team.
  • Outfield:  FRANK ROBINSON – No way I could leave this Hall of Famer out; The only man to win the Most Valuable Player award in both leagues. The last man to win the Triple Crown, leading the American League in batting average, home runs, and runs batted in while a Baltimore Oriole in 1966. The majors’ first African-American manager, making history with the Cleveland Indians in 1975. Enough said.
  • Outfield:  JAMES “COOL PAPA” BELL – The fastest baseball player of all time. Playing with (mostly) the Negro League’s St. Louis Stars over a 26-year career, it was famously said that Bell was so fast, he could turn off the light and be in the bed before the room got dark. And it was also reported that he once scored from first base on a sacrifice bunt.
  • Outfield:  OSCAR CHARLESTON – Was widely considered the best all-around player in Negro League history with a lifetime batting average of .357 over 28 years, including a .326 average against white major leaguers in exhibition play. Charleston was a center fielder and had a reputation as a most intense player who didn’t take any mess. He was listed as the fourth best ballplayer of all time by Bill James, behind Mays, Honus Wagner and Babe Ruth, and he was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1976.

 

 

A nice pic of (IMO) the greatest baseball player ever. Photo courtesy of biography.com

 

 

Manager:  ANDREW “RUBE” FOSTER

“The Father of Black Baseball”. Not only was a standout player and manager for the Chicago American Giants in the first couple of decades of the 20th century, he started the Negro National League, the first real black professional league, in 1920.

 

HONORABLE MENTION – Four more players and one player/coach/manager/ambassador that I regretfully had no room for on this 25-man roster…

CURT FLOOD – It’s impossible to not include this center fielder for the St. Louis Cardinal teams of the 1960s.

And not just because of his seven Gold Gloves, as his stand against the indentured servant-like reserve clause, when he refused to be traded to the Philadelphia Phillies and asked to be a free agent in 1970, eventually taking Major League Baseball to the Supreme Court, more than opened the door for players, like every other worker, to choose where they want to work and ultimately make millions.

In essence, he sacrificed his career for player freedom.

KEN GRIFFEY, JR – 630 home runs. A ten time Gold Glove award winner, with his Spiderman-like acrobatic catches. Basically saved baseball in Seattle. One of the newest Hall of Famers, elected in 2016. How can I possibly not mention him?

TONY GWYNN – ” Mr. Padre”. The greatest player in San Diego Padres history. The greatest pure hitter in the past 35 years. An eight-time batting champ. Came the closest to being the first man to bat .400 since 1941, hitting .394 in 1994. Had over 3,100 hits in a 20-year career with a lifetime batting average of .338. I don’t think I need to say anything else.

WILLIE STARGELL – “Pops”. The leader of the Pittsburgh Pirates throughout the 1970s, particularly during their “We Are Family” championship run in 1979. Also one of my favorite players and a true class act along with being a tremendous slugger.

BUCK O’NEILL – After watching him spin so many wonderful stories about his playing and managing days with the Kansas City Monarchs on Ken Burns’ Baseball documentary miniseries, he simply had to be given a special mention on this team; he was also the first African-American on a coaching staff, joining the Chicago Cubs in 1962. The fact that he has not been elected to the Hall of Fame despite being baseball’s ambassador and starting the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum in Kansas City is very upsetting.

OK, there you have it – my all-time African-American baseball club.

Though I know that there will be disputes over players that I left out a and gave honorable mention instead of putting them on the team outright – believe me, there were some very tough decisions involved – I hope this is enjoyed by those who read this as much as I enjoyed writing it.

 

 

One of the greatest Negro League teams ever assembled, the 1932 Pittsburgh Crawfords, featuring three members of my all-time team: Satchel Paige (top row, 3rd from left), Josh Gibson (top row, 4th from left), and Oscar Charleston (top row, far right). Photo courtesy of wikipedia.org

 

 

 

Why Are There So Few African-Americans In Baseball – My Thoughts On This Issue

KANSAS CITY, MO – JULY 10: National League All-Stars Andrew McCutchen #22 of the Pittsburgh Pirates, Matt Kemp #27 of the Los Angeles Dodgers and Michael Bourn #24 of the Atlanta Braves pose for a photo during batting practice before the 83rd MLB All-Star Game at Kauffman Stadium against the American League on Tuesday July 10, 2012 in Kansas City, Missouri. (Photo by Kyle Rivas/MLB Photos via Getty Images)

 

ONE AFRICAN-AMERICAN’S OPINION AS TO WHY THE NUMBER OF BLACKS IN BASEBALL HAS DRASTICALLY DROPPED OVER THE PAST THIRTY YEARS

I’m something of an anomaly in the sports fan universe.

I’m an African-American who prefers baseball over football and basketball as his favorite sport, not only to play but also – with college football and women’s college gymnastics in second place – to watch.

Granted, I’m in my fifties and from a generation where baseball was more popular among blacks.

But considering the fact that the percentage of Black Americans playing Major League Baseball was at 7.73% last season compared to 19% in 1986,

I sometimes feel like a pink poodle in the African-American sports world.

TONS of stuff has been written and said regarding the factors contributing the number of blacks in America’s pastime falling; the talking heads on ESPN and the MLB Network has covered this issue to death at around this time every year, but,

After noticing this trend and listening to the talking heads, I reckon it’s high time for this longtime baseball/softball guy to officially offer my one-and-a-half cents as to why black kids are poo-poohing baseball for football and (particularly) basketball…

 

  • Lack of Interest

Contrary to what some may be thinking, there’s definitely no color line being redrawn, in the majors or at any other level.

If that were the case, the significant number of Latinos, especially from the Dominican Republic, wouldn’t ever see the diamond; indeed, there were and are plenty of players from the Caribbean whose skin is darker than mine!

Rather, I agree with the notion of African-American kids largely losing interest in baseball the past few decades, much preferring to be like LeBron James or Stephen Curry than Ken Griffey, Jr. or Tony Gwynn.

It also seems to me that baseball is seen as a “white” thing in the inner city communities in particular, a sport that’s “goofy” and not “cool”, too slow and “boring” for them due to the constant standing around and slower pace compared to football and basketball.

I think such would be the case even if there were an abundance of leagues and programs like RBI (Reviving Baseball In The Inner Cities) and the MLB’s Urban Youth Academy in Compton, CA, entities that are striving to increase interest and participation in baseball among black youngsters.

 

 

INSPIRING: Mo’ne Davis mowing down batters during the Little league World Series. Photo courtesy of variety.com

 

 

  • $$$$$

Not only has the oftentimes lack of necessary funds – gloves, bats and cleats as well as registering in Little League and travel ball programs are not cheap – stopped many African-Americans in the inner city from getting involved in baseball,

For the athlete who sees sports as a way out of a struggling life and into prosperity, a way to make his fortune and take care of his family, football and basketball are much more attractive.

Even though a successful career in “The Show” is safer and twice as long as an NFL or NBA career, the fact that aspiring football and basketball players can make big money right away out of high school or after one to three years in college,

And unlike their baseball counterparts not have to ride the buses in the minor leagues for an average of three years making next to no money –  with a minuscule chance of making the big leagues on top of that,

Is a significant incentive, as in the minds of I reckon many young African-Americans from the “hood”, why should they play in rinky-dink ballparks in teeny little towns in (oftentimes) the reddest of states full of folks who may not necessarily see them as equal human beings,  making peanuts and eating McDonald’s food when they can make HUGE bank playing in gigantic paradises like Jerry Jones’ AT&T Palace (I mean, Stadium) in Dallas?

Or at Los Angeles’ Staples Center with those three rows of luxury boxes?

Or that new state-of-the-art Heaven being built for L. A.’s Rams and Chargers in nearby Inglewood, CA right now?

Until MLB changes the way things are done in their farm systems in that context, this mindset will continue.

 

 

Hunter Greene (5) of the Notre Dame High School Knights pitches against the Alemany High School Warriors at Notre Dame H.S. on April 7, 2017 in Sherman Oaks, California. Greene is expected to be a high first round pick in the 2017 Major League Baseball player draft on June 12. Notre Dame defeated Alemany, 2-1. (Larry Goren/Four Seam Images via AP)

 

 

  • It’s a “Generation Gap” Thing

Related to baseball being seen as “uncool” among many African-American kids, I think it’s also a case of the game being seen by today’s millennials – of all races – as something that their parents and grandparents were and are into.

A big proof of this sentiment lies in the Negro Leagues, which were a pronounced part of black life and culture in this country in the years before Jackie Robinson’s debut with the then-Brooklyn Dodgers in 1947.

Stars like Satchel Paige, Oscar Charleston, James “Cool Papa” Bell and Josh Gibson were just as big among blacks as Babe Ruth, Ty Cobb, Lou Gehrig and Joe DiMaggio were among whites, and contests like the annual East-West All-Star Game in Chicago’s Comiskey Park (the White Sox’s home) often drew sellout crowds of 50,000.

The kids who saw those games – and later Robinson and legends ranging from Willie Mays and Henry Aaron in the 1950s and 60s to Willie Stargell and Reggie Jackson in the 1970s to Ozzie Smith and Darryl Strawberry in the 1980s to Frank Thomas in the 1990s and 2000s – were undoubtedly influenced by those players.

Much like they were influenced in a major way by Magic Johnson and Michael Jordan in the 80s.

It’s no coincidence that baseball’s popularity factor among young black children started to significantly decrease, while basketball’s popularity began to greatly increase, in the 80s as black baseball fans grew old and passed away, leaving a vacuum that the NBA and the NFL – with guys like Walter Payton and Jerry Rice – filled quite neatly.

Personally,  as another illustration of this gap my affection for baseball came from my grandparents, who had Dodger games playing on the radio and TV, with the great Vin Scully doing the play-by-play, seemingly every day during the spring and summer.

I’m not sure if I would have embraced the game the way I did if not for that.

 

  • My View Of What’s Being Done About This Issue

Despite baseball making every effort to increase interest and participation among young African-Americans with RBI and the MLB Youth Urban Academies, I firmly believe that it comes down to this, as illustrated by this old saying…

You can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make him drink it.

In other words, you can’t force a child – black or of any race – to like baseball or to play it.

For the same reason a Canadian kid who’s obsessive about hockey can’t be persuaded to eschew the diamond, an African-American kid who’s crazy about hoops – and for whom Kobe Bryant is next to God – cannot be persuaded to give that up to play baseball.

Or even add that sport in addition to basketball.

Which is why I sadly don’t expect the percentage of blacks in Major League Baseball to ever approach what it was in the 1980s again, as the best I can expect that percentage would be around 10%.

That would be my minimum goal if I were the MLB commissioner.

However, I do remain hopeful that the efforts to change this unfortunate trend produces moire positive results.

After all, I still regard baseball as being the best sport in the world.

 

 

One of the greatest baseball teams ever assembled: the Negro League’s Pittsburgh Crawfords, featuring icons like Satchel Paige (top row, 3rd from left), Josh Gibson (top row, 4th from left) and Oscar Charleston (top row, far right). Photo courtesy of diversity.appstate.edu

 

 

BASEBALL IS HERE: A Few Thoughts On The Game On Opening Day

This is what Dodger Stadium will look like today as the Los Angeles Dodgers open the baseball season against their longtime rival San Francisco Giants. Photo courtesy of truebluela.com

 

EXPRESSING MY AFFECTIONS FOR A NATIONAL PASTIME THAT I HAVE BEEN INVOLVED IN ONE FORM OR ANOTHER FOR FORTY YEARS

Today is a day that, next to Christmas and my birthday, is my favorite day of the year.

Indeed, as the former Boston Red Sox slugger and future Hall of Famer David Ortiz expressed, I strongly feel that Opening Day should be made a national holiday in this country.

Hey, it could replace Columbus Day, as we’d go from a day commemorating a guy who not only did NOT discover America, he set the reels in motion of exploitation and enslavement,

To a day where we celebrate a sport that in mine and millions of others’ hearts is STILL considered the significant pastime in America;

Especially when one considers the problems football (READ: Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy) and basketball (READ: Bribery scandals in college hoops) are having that while they may not completely kill those sports, they may well lead folks to return to baseball as being the top game in their hearts.

I think – at the risk of sounding sappy, sentimental, pompous, or a combination of those three descriptions – Opening Day symbolizes renewal.

Everyone’s undefeated, and even if your team has the same chance of winning as a snowball’s chance of not melting in Saudi Arabia during the summer,

As the cliché goes, “Hope Springs Eternal” and even the fans of teams like the Oakland Athletics and the Miami Marlins (who are losing to the Chicago Cubs as we speak) are smiling today as Major League Baseball begins its 143rd season.

Which is 41 years older than the next major sports league in North America, hockey’s NHL.

 

ANAHEIM, CA – SEPTEMBER 08: Corey Seager #5 of the Los Angeles Dodgers slides home ahead of the throw to catcher Chris Iannetta #17 of the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim to score a run on a fielder’s choice in the sixth inning at Angel Stadium of Anaheim on September 8, 2015 in Anaheim, California. (Photo by Stephen Dunn/Getty Images)

 

As For Me Personally…

I have expressed on this blog how I took to baseball as a kid, how the Dodgers playing in the 1977 World Series and the classic little league movie The Bad News Bears were the bugs that bit me and began my affection for the game.

Indeed, this June 18th (my birthday) it will be forty years ago to that day that I will have attended my very first Major League game at Dodger Stadium;

I’ll be describing and commemorating that day in detail in this blog on that day, which I’m confident you will enjoy.

I’ll also – in a syndication with my sports blog, SoCalSportsAnnals.com, be writing an article naming my all-time African-American baseball team, which I think is important not only due to the great Jackie Robinson, but to all the great baseball players of African descent who came before and since.

I’m also planning on expressing why I think there are relative so few African-Americans in the majors compared to the 1960s, 70s and even 80s on this blog and SoCal Sports Annals; I hope you’re looking forward to reading that, too.

But for now, as I sit here in my Dodgers jersey and cap, I’ll go on about my day with a happy mood that…

BASEBALL IS HERE!

And of course I’ll be watching the games on ESPN today, including my Dodgers as well as the other team calling the Los Angeles area home, the Angels.

Happy Opening Day to all those who love the game as much as I do!

 

Baseball’s essential tools – I particularly like this picture because of the glove; I’m a first baseman. Photo courtesy of itemlive.com

 

My Personal Ratings System For Teachers, Coaches, & Leaders

Check out this little league coach showing this youngster how to grip a bat; now that’s teaching! Photo courtesy of westsidelittleleague.org

 

As many of you would probably know if you’ve been reading this blog or any of the stuff I’ve written on sites like Hub Pages, I worked with young people in some capacity – a physical education teacher, a sports coach (mostly baseball & softball), a tutor, and an after school leader – for roughly 25 years.

After those days were over and I had some time to reflect on it all, having noticed the styles of the various teachers and coaches that I worked with, worked for, and who taught and coached me during my formative years in school,

I developed a ratings system pertaining to the personality a teacher/coach; his or her philosophy and approach to working with and (particularly) interacting with children and young folks and how effective such would ultimately have.

My system is based on a 1-10 scale:

ONE –  a teacher/coach whose approach is that of a buddy or a best friend, which in my experience describes many youth sports coaches who coach beginners and kids who are single-digit age.

Teachers and coaches like this are often quite popular, and their charges usually have a fun experience, which is important.

However…

The problem with leaders like this is that the children who are learning whatever they are learning, usually end up not learning anything as the mindset of coaches like this is,

 

“We’re just here to have fun, it doesn’t really matter (if you get any better at whatever’s being taught)”

 

In essence, coaches like this run their team like a glorified recess.

Which is not good.

 

TEN – the opposite of a “ONE” coach.

Basically a Marine Corps drill sergeant in boot camp-type of leader.

These are the coaches/teachers who yell/scream at their students/athletes, belittling them, oftentimes calling them names, saying that they suck, giving harsh punishments, even throwing things at them.

A good illustration of this: My first high school marching band director (I had two during those days).

As a teacher, he fit all the above descriptions, his most often tirade being – at the top of his lungs of course, while looking like he was about to turn into the Incredible Hulk…

 

“You stink! You can’t march!! You can’t play!!! YOU STINK!!! I HATE YOU!!! Now go on and give me some push-ups!!! GO ON!!!!”

 

I also vividly recall him throwing his baton at a trumpet player during a rehearsal.

Essentially, teachers and coaches like him aren’t just intimidating, they are just plain mean – at least with their charges during practice or rehearsal.

 

 

I like the way the coach – one guess who it is by this pic – is interacting with his team here. Photo courtesy of happyhealthykids.com

 

And then there’s a…

FIVE – The rating that all leaders need to strive for.

These are the people who can get on you if needed, but in a good way so as to not make their students or players feel demeaned or humiliated.

More importantly, these are the leaders that show that they care about you not only in whatever they’re coaching or teaching,

But also as a human being.

For these coaches, it’s about positive reinforcement, self-esteem, and confidence building without being overly friendly or not holding their charges accountable.

In my experience and observation, there are only two people who are perfect fives in my book:

1. John Wooden, the former UCLA basketball coach widely regarded as the greatest coach in the history of sports not only due to his winning ten national championships in a twelve-year span – including seven in a row – but also due to his various quotes like “Be quick, but don’t hurry” and “Failing to prepare is preparing to fail”  and his renowned “Pyramid of Success”, that is a basic guide on how to succeed in life.

and…

2. Valorie Kondos Field, the dynamic coach of UCLA’s women’s gymnastics team who has won national championships, worked with All-Americans, members of the U.S. National Team (and other countries),  Olympians and Olympic gold medalists, and who like Wooden has been extremely effective in teaching her young ladies how to get along in life, which has shown in the success of all her gymnasts once their Bruin days were done.

 

As For Me and My Rating As A Coach And A Teacher…

I was more or less all over the place.

There were times where I was about an eight, particularly during my first few years working with kids as while I never, ever hit anyone, I was a bit of a yeller at times and a my-way-or-else type of leader, something saying things to certain kids that I regret, that I would apologize for if I ever encountered such kids today.

There were also times when I was about a three, in that I would interact with my students and athletes like I was trying to be their buddy, which ruined the sense of authority that I was trying to establish.

I’d never say that I was a perfect five, but I was always striving for it, and you know what?

If I ever got a chance to coach or teach again, I’m confident that I would be as close to a five – perhaps a four or a six – than I ever was.

I hope this rating system makes sense to those of you who teach or coach or have aspirations to do so.

It’s certainly something that will be kept in my mind if the opportunity to work with young people ever arises again for me, my attitude being…

NEVER SAY NEVER.

 

Another illustration of good instruction from a coach. Photo courtesy of chicagonow.com

 

 

 

TEN YEARS AGO TODAY: Commemorating The Day I Changed My Life And Decided To Pursue Writing

Photo courtesy of droidtvnews.com

 

RELIVING THE DAY I DECIDED TO CHANGE MY LIFE ONCE AND FOR ALL

I remember it well;

On this day in 2008, I was in pretty bad shape emotionally.

In fact, I was in pretty bad shape for the past few years, as I was pathetically trying to hold onto my life working with young people in education and sports.

For the previous five years, I was miserably failing at being gainfully employed, either quitting or being fired from every one of the six jobs that I had, ranging from being a tutor in East Los Angeles to being on the coaching staff for a high school softball team, to being a playground aide – a job where I lasted only a few weeks – to my last gig as an after school teacher.

Looking back, it was evident that I was depressed on a fairly pronounced scale, even threatening suicide at one of those jobs when my supervisor was, at least in my warped mind,  picking on me for something.

It all came to a head during that last after school job when my supervisor – a young lady who was half my age – lectured me due to something I did.

Which I deserved in retrospect, but my mind was so messed up over having to kowtow to someone who could have been one of my students or athletes that I felt humiliated, among other negative things.

I fell into SUCH a depression that I stayed home for the next three days, rarely getting out of bed.

Which brings me to that fateful day – this day – exactly a decade ago.

I had finally realized once and for all that the effects of my being on the Autism Spectrum Disorder – having Asperger’s Syndrome to be precise – was never going to be conducive to me working with other people on a daily basis.

Not only that, I had realized that I absolutely was sick and tired of working for and answering to someone else.

I hated having to impress and please people who I honestly felt saw me as an inferior, not an equal human being in my mind.

I realized that I desperately needed my freedom, my independence from being at the mercy of someone else; for that someone else to determine whether you were going to be able to eat, buy clothes, and pay the rent through their employment of you.

 

 

Considering all the work I’ve done these past ten years, I suppose it’s safe for me to say this. Photo courtesy of dreamstop.com

 

Which was causing a stress that was quite unhealthy.

And most of all, after remembering how people had told me over the years that they liked my writing and my essays in schools and such, I realized that my talents were in that field and that I needed to pursue that wholeheartedly.

Or forever wish I had.

In short, being an employee was virtually – and perhaps literally, being that I had threatened suicide more than once during my time in the workforce  –  killing me.

I began that February 6th by meeting the softball coach I was under the previous spring at a Carl’s Jr., telling him of my plans.

Then I journeyed to the school where I was working at to take my stand against those oppressors, I mean employers.

To formally quit not only my job, but the “Kid Business” in general, ending my life in working for young people.

To in layman’s terms, tell the overseers, I mean supervisors, at that after-school job to “Kiss my ass” (not literally of course; I had a little more class than that).

And to begin my life as a writer, which I did a few days later when I found a site called HubPages.com and began writing different articles about my experiences with having Asperger’s and other things, which I got paid in royalties for.

Which led me to joining another writing site that paid royalties, Triond.com

Which, being a sports person who liked to give opinions about such, led me to writing for Bleacher Report and Fansided, helping to start GoJoeBruin.com, a sports blog covering my alma mater UCLA, on that network.

Which eventually led me to starting two blogs of my own:

SoCalSportsAnnals.com, on this same WordPress network,

And this blog.

Which I will have had for three (for SoCal Sports Annals) and four years this July (for this blog) respectively.

Along with working on my book describing  my struggles with being on the autism spectrum in a non-autistic world, “WALKING ON EGGSHELLS”, which I am on the verge of finishing as I have done a fourth draft and am going to do some final editing on one chapter in particular.

 

 

 

I thought it would be nice to include a picture of Charlie Brown’s dog doing his writing here, as I grew up on “Peanuts” and consider it the greatest comic strip of all time. Image courtesy of  jdspero.wordpress.com

 

 

In Case You Were Wondering:

No, I have NOT gotten rich from this now decade-long career – FAR from it.

But that’s perfectly OK as my mental well-being has improved in the past ten years since that day I walked away from the “Kid Business”

I don’t pretend that I have arrived as a writer; I’m definitely haven’t had any success on any best seller lists whatsoever.

But one thing is for sure…

By having these two blogs and this soon-to-be published book (by no later than the end of this year), I feel that I’m being more a contributor to society.

For lack of a better term, I feel that I’m more in my niche.

And that I will have left something worthwhile to be remembered by when my time in this world is over – if people care to remember me at all.

Which I think is a big part of living your life.

 

All Right, Here’s My Main Point:

It all began ten years ago today.

And it wouldn’t be right to not mark the occasion in these Hartland Chronicles of  mine.

Of course it’s my hope and prayer that my life in writing will continue to be fulfilling.

And if it becomes lucrative, great!

But to be honest, making a lot of money was not on my mind when I decided to do this.

It was to become happy in my life’s work – or at least happier.

Which I of course thank God for as I’m convinced He was leading me to this.

It’s been a pretty good ten years doing this writing thing.

I only pray that the next ten years are as good if not better.

Perhaps I’ll work on a young adult novel when “WALKING ON EGGSHELLS” is done and published; I have a few ideas swimming in my head.

I know I’m going to grow and evolve SoCal Sports Annals, as that’s my business for all intents and purposes.

I also know that I’m not where I want and need to be as a writer, and probably won’t be for a while.

But at least I’m not where I used to be those past few years working for someone else, especially mentally.

And that’s something that I certainly thank the Good Lord for.

 

Photo courtesy of writehacked.com