On the first day of school, when I’m getting to know my students, I always ask the same few questions: What did you do over the summer? State one goal for the year. Do you play a sport or how are you involved on campus?
I always get the same few answers in regards to goals and summer adventures; however, when it comes to sports, it becomes an internal guessing game for me with the boys. I can guess the football and basketball answers right off the bat, before they even open their mouth, and I’m pretty good at guessing positions too. Unfortunately, when a black student responds with baseball or softball, my eyebrows raise and I say, “That’s cool!”. I even offer a follow up with “what position?” I wait for outfield, or short stop – because, speed. The one time I was greeted with, pitcher, as a response I was shocked.
Wait, why is that so surprising? Because. Black kids don’t play baseball or softball. Especially not here in Texas. Now, there are several black players in both the professional and collegiate levels; however, the overwhelming majority of blacks are not playing either. Before I launch into lack of black players – I’ll save that for another post in the series, I want to discuss black fans. As baseball fan, I have to ask, where are all of the black fans? I travel around the country covering the game day in different cities. The NBA and NFL lead in the diversity for their fans. Baseball?? I stick out like a sore thumb. I reside in Houston, which prides itself on being a melting pot, I go to an Astros game and there’s not many black people are in attendance. Yes, the ballpark is massive, I can’t accurately gauge the amount of blacks in attendance. Let’s move on to another city. Let’s head to Dallas. Again, I am one of a few. Anaheim, California? Maybe I saw a group of blacks off in the distance. Boston? Yeah, I my friend Bethany and I were the only women of color we came across. Chicago? Not much different. New York? Even in my favorite place on earth, there appeared to be more blacks in the ballpark, but not enough to say the fanbase is diverse. When it comes to baseball as being a diverse sport, I think of a quote I heard from Adam Jones back in 2016. “Baseball is a white man’s sport”. That my friends, is very true. I think about this statement by Jones and I think, is this why there’s not a lot of black baseball fans?
I find myself defending my love for baseball when speaking to my black students. “Ms. Hunt, why are you a baseball fan? Black people don’t play baseball.” Ah! There it is. I’m not going to bored you with statistics and research, I’ll save that for another post, later. So, let me answer that question with a little backstory. If you know me or have been following me for a while, you know that my dad is a football player and played in the NFL for six season in the early 80’s. Some of you may also know that my dad also holds the career record in tackles at the University of Oklahoma – still. Sorry to brag, but I have to give some context. Everything about me says football, and you can argue basketball as well, but I love baseball. My first sporting event to attend wasn’t a football game, it was a baseball game. Who was playing? The New York Yankees in the old Yankee Stadium. My mom is from the Bronx, and was actually a Mets fan, but would cheer for the Yanks as well. I was a baby for that game. When I was a little older, maybe 3 or so, we were walking and I pointed to a massive structure and asked what it was. My mom informed me that it was Yankee Stadium. The Yankee Stadium?! I was hooked. You couldn’t tell me anything. From then on it was the Bronx Bombers and Pinstripes. I was raised in the Houston area. My mom told the nurses that they could not put an Astros blanket on me when the Astros and Mets were playing for the pennant. Location doesn’t always determine your love for a team. My love for baseball, in general, stems for my love for the Yankees and the players. Mariano Rivera, Derek Jeter, Hideki Matsui, Robinson Cano (still bitter and he’s still a Yankee to me – we can fight over this if you want to), Andy Pettitte, Alex Rodriguez, Jorge Posada CC Sabathia, and of course my new loves, Aaron Judge, and Giancarlo Stanton – when they’re not striking out. I know, you’re probably thinking, “So what’s your point?”. We all have our reasons why we love a team. That’s not what this is about. I am the first person to say that sports create a diversion to escape and bring people together. What happens when you get hit over the head with the fact that maybe your favorite sport, that champions Jackie Robinson and equality doesn’t openly support and stand for social issues? Or maybe that’s how it seems.
In recent weeks, I have been examining the way that organizations have been voicing their opinion and taking a stand for racial equality and social justice. The timing of their statements have been crucial and one organization I was frankly disappointed in, was Major League Baseball. What took them so long? Were they distracted by their MLBPA negotiations that they never turned on the television to see the news? Did they think the NBA, NHL, NFL posts would cover their lack of voice in this situation? Over the next several weeks, I plan to unpack multiple issues I’ve determined with in the baseball world. From the lack of black baseball fans, to the decline of African American players, and ending with how baseball can and continue to give back to inner city communities. I know, this is an about face from game day recipes, travel and style. This is a topic that I feel deserves a home on this platform and I intend to give it the energy it deserves. If anything, I hope that I can provide some insight from myself, men and women in sports, and some research.
Stay tuned for Part II coming next week; Baseball and Black America – Sports and Politics