As professional baseball sees an all-time low of Black athletes at the top levels of competition, Black Men Coalition of Dane County (BMCDC) is providing a fresh outlook and fresh opportunity for young baseball players. Corey Marionneaux, founder of BMCDC, was at the helm of BMCDC’s event at Elver Park this past Saturday as volunteers looked to provide resources, coach introductions, and practice time with their future teammates for over 200 kids.
“The line when we started was all the way down that trail, which was beautiful,” Marionneaux told Madison365. “People are getting their things. We gave out cleats today, baseball gloves, baseball T-shirts, baseball hats, baseball pants, and belts. They got to meet their coaches today. They got to play and hit with the [Madison] Mallards baseball team as well as the Mallards Duck, which is pretty cool. We gave out free food today — hot dogs, chips, water, stuff like that. We had lots of volunteers show up, which is awesome. We’re building a community with the kids and adults.”
The opportunity to get out and play with fellow children in the community provided both children and parents with a new perspective on the potential of baseball as an undertaking for the summer. Introducing baseball among Black youth in Madison was one of the focal points of the event for Marionneaux. “There are a lot of baseball leagues here, but our youth don’t know about it. Probably 80% of these baseball players who registered with us have never played baseball before in their life,” he said. “The parents make it known because they’re like, ‘You know, he’s never played, are they going to be okay?’ Most of the kids haven’t played, because they don’t have an opportunity.”
Extending an invitation to young baseball players is a step BMCDC is looking to take to address both a lack of awareness of baseball and a lack of access.
“They don’t keep up the baseball fields in our communities, they usually have grass going out everywhere, things like that,” said Marionneaux. “And the transportation, a lot of parents have to work two jobs, because they may be single-parent homes and things of that nature. They may have a young one at home. In baseball, we have the lowest numbers in the history of baseball right now for Black Americans. That’s something that really caught our attention. We just want to try to fill the gap in our community concerning that, and we hope other people start as well in other communities all over.”
While it was many young players’ first introduction to baseball as an activity, the atmosphere was one of excitement and joy as the kids got to spend the sunny day out on the field. The opportunity to physically get out and play is one way to combat the falling representation of Black players in the sport, but that is not the only solution that Marionneaux feels can change the tide. “Speak about the history,” he said. “When Major League Baseball was getting 1,000 fans, the Negro League was getting 500 fans at the ball games. Just continue to speak about the history of baseball, which is something very positive for Black Americans. I think that’s key, and it gets kind of swept under the rug, you don’t really hear about it. And also just support our youth in every way possible to stay active and not just in front of a video game.”
The focus on bringing out young Black athletes to be in community was met with both enthusiasm and relief by parents such as Alicia Haynes Barlow whose two young sons signed up to play and had their younger sister along for support.
“It’s been a pretty seamless process, and something we’re really excited about,” said Barlow. “We’ve been looking for something to get them into. I saw this opportunity and it just clicked. This is what we should be doing. Just having grown up in Madison, and always being involved in sports, but always feeling like the only person who looks like me. For example, soccer and swimming, all the club teams that I played on. I always felt isolated…So I saw this opportunity for my boys, it was just like a no-brainer.”
The positive impact of relationship-building opportunities with fellow kids and teammates along with the positive impact of getting involved in a sport itself was not lost on parents and kids alike. In the case of Barlow’s youngest son, baseball serves as an opportunity to make new friends while also still playing with his big brother.
“Our boys, they play together at home all the time, but I can see already,” Barlow said. “He’s just four, and he can be more on the shy and tentative side as I was, but they find security within each other. This opportunity to provide that experience where they find security and community, and making other friends and have those different relationships. They will be on different teams, so it’s something they can embark on together, but they also have their own separate thing that they can call their own, which is also really essential.
“If we’re gonna raise our children in Madison, this is a type of opportunity that we’re gonna take advantage of and put them in just to build that confidence. Because I think that when a child is confident they can do anything. And it starts this young.”
The potential for new friendships and to play the game of baseball itself made its impression on the young athletes as Barlow’s oldest son, Rudy, was simply excited for, “Throwing the ball and hitting the ball with the bat.”
Check out the Black Men Coalition of Dane County website along with the information for BMCDC youth baseball.