All black Little League team does Chicago proud

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The Jackie Robinson West Little League Team. (Facebook/Little League Central Region)

The Jackie Robinson West Little League Team. (Facebook/Little League Central Region)

When you think of Chicago, what normally comes to mind — high crime rate, violence, drive-by shootings, drugs and police? If that’s you, then stop it! Stop adding to the negativity. We need to show some love to The Windy City. You need to know that an all-black little league team from Chicago has been invited to represent the Great Lakes region in the Little League World Series!

The Jackie Robinson West league, founded in 1971, and named after the iconic ball player, has helped to keep baseball from becoming a white-washed game in an environment some see as accessible only to rich white kids. The Jackie Robinson West All-Stars bring much-needed good vibes and a great deal of hope to the people of Chicago. After so many tragic events that make the daily news, the city is looking pretty bad on a national level. A breath of youth and vitality is exactly what Chicagoans need. The sight of our kids, our future, working as a team and creating the bonds and positive spirit to give them the strength to win nationally is a huge boost to the city’s morale.

Even Mayor Emanuel noticed, saying, “The Jackie Robinson West All-Stars have excited an entire city with their dedication and athleticism, and everyone should have the chance to see a Chicago team play in the Little League World Series for the first time since 1983.”

“This is stuff of legends,” said renowned Cincinnati Reds player Barry Larkin on ESPN. Major League Baseball’s David James, a senior director of the Reviving Baseball In Inner Cities (RBI) program, knows all about the team’s story, and it delights him to see them return to the biggest stage in Little League. “All of us at MLB are talking about that team,” said James, a native of Williamsport and a former head of the Little League Urban Initiative. “It’s really good for the game.”

That’s not all. This year’s Jackie Robinson West team has come to the attention of Curtis Granderson, a Mets right fielder, who knows all about the hardship that the boys on this team face every single day, having grown up in Chicago’s south suburbs. Granderson began playing baseball in the Lynwood Little League.

“The cool thing is the way people talk about it,” Granderson reflected. “Like, ‘Wow, there is an all-black team out there; I didn’t know there was an all-black team playing.’ The fact that people don’t realize that there is a black team means that people are under the assumption that black kids aren’t playing baseball. Hopefully, this could be something that sheds light both in the African-American community and the non-African-American community.”

While diversity is often talked about and praised in baseball, the game’s costs have not stopped increasing and as a result have been beyond the wallets of a large and growing number of future players after Little League. The expense of playing, since teams who travel have become standard even prior to reaching high school, might extend to thousands of dollars each year. That is why there are programs to help inner-city areas maintain a team.