It was the second out in a game-ending double play. The first baseman from the Great Lakes Region Little League team left his left foot behind, touching the base, as he stretched out to catch the baseball floating his way. By the time the play was over, he was laid out, stomach down in the dirt, with the ball snuggled in his glove.
By the time the play was over, the Jackie Robinson Park All-Stars from Chicago, Illinois, had booked a date in the Little League World Series final.
And for the first time, in what seems likes months, we see 13 young, black faces on the television screen, emerged out of one of the most dangerous areas in the country, headed down the path of success.
What a joyous sight it is.
For the past two weeks, the Little League World Series has garnered major air time on both ESPN and ABC. In recent years, ESPN has, in fact, featured the youth event in its television lineup, including color commentary and analysis from some of its most esteemed baseball minds.
This year, the event received a jolt of life from two unlikely areas–Chicago and Philadelphia–and one unlikely player–Mo’ne Davis.
Let’s talk about Chicago and the Jackie Robinson Park boys first.
The team’s namesake, in essence, says it all. Jackie Robinson, an alum of UCLA, was the first modern era black player in Major League Baseball. He entered the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1962, ten years before his death. HIs number, 42, is retired across the MLB and on Jackie Robinson Day, every player in the league wears 42 for the day.
Enter Jackie Robinson West, an all-black park team with an all-black coaching staff playing a predominantly white sport.
At the beginning of the 2014 MLB season, according to the Pew Research Center, 8.3 percent of players were black. In 2012, blacks made up 7.2 percent of players and in that same year, whites made up 63.9 percent of the MLB.
Now, that’s not to say that blacks are somehow being held out of baseball. A majority of black youth are partial to basketball and football, and we can see that with the number of black players that make up the NBA (nearly 80 percent in 2011) and the NFL (nearly 70 percent in 2011). Both sports tend to be cheaper than baseball and provide more of an opportunity for instant gratification, in the form of a dunk or highlight-reel catch.
But this group of 12- and 13-year olds has bucked that trend tremendously, going 5-1 in the LLWS before reaching the LLWS final again Seoul, South Korea.
In fact, the Chicago boys lost 13-2 to Nevada in their second game of the tournament, and their next four matchups served as elimination games. In the U.S. final, facing Nevada once again, Chicago exacted revenge, winning, 7-5.
And let’s not forget one crucial point: this team is from the south side of Chicago. The side that you hear about for all the wrong reasons. The side synonymous with gang culture and black-on-black crime. The side where 9-year old Antonio Smith was killed in a shooting on Aug. 21.
This group of talented boys, a few years removed from high school and hopefully college, deserves a wealth of credit for their perseverance, tenacity, and skill on the baseball diamond. And even though they lost in the title game to Seoul, 8-4, they’ve turned an unlikely journey into a source of pride for the black community on a nationwide scale, a ray of light in a dark time.
And if that wasn’t enough, there is one more youngster–a little black girl–who has given us something to smile about as well.
Her name is Mo’ne Davis. She’s 13. She’s the only girl in the LLWS. And if you haven’t seen or heard of her, take a look at this video below:
Mo’ne don’t play.
And in the past two weeks, the outpouring of support from Davis nationwide has been immense. Michelle Obama, Ellen Degeneres, Magic Johnson and Dodgers’ pitcher Clayton Kershaw are among the names that have taken to Twitter to laud Davis’ skill and positive attitude towards the game.
While Davis is a standout in baseball, however, she says that her favorite sports are soccer and basketball. She hopes to play basketball at the University of Connecticut.
Davis saw her run to the LLWS final come to an end when her Philadelphia team fell to Jackie Robinson, 6-5. But the buzz Davis created, as the lone girl in this year’s LLWS, will last a lifetime.
Our attention, as a community, has been aimed at the happenings in Ferguson, Missouri. A young man’s life was lost, and if anything is worthy of our attention, it’s that.
But there are times, that in the midst of tragedy and injustice, our tunnel vision allows us to overlook some of the good that is still happening among our youth. The Jackie Robinson All-Stars and Mo’ne Davis, if anything, are worthy of a smile and head nod. It’s worth it to know that this special group of kids is making their families and cities proud, regardless of skin color.
So while we continue to pray for justice in the case of Michael Brown, let’s also give thanks to God, for blessing us with a group of young superstars, as they continue on their journey to greatness, the first steps in the journey having taken place right in front of our eyes.