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Free baseball league launches next month; looks to diversify the sport in Dane County

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Less than 10 percent of Major League Baseball players are Black – the lowest rate in decades – and youth leagues across the country aren’t much better. Between travel, league fees, equipment and uniform expenses and transportation to and from practice, it can be really difficult for low-income and working families to participate in youth sports like baseball.

The Black Men’s Coalition of Dane County (BMCDC) is looking to bridge that gap and remove those barriers by launching a free baseball league next month.

Corey Marionneaux. Photo supplied.

“There’s no attention on Black and brown youth playing baseball in this city,” BMCDC founder and president Corey Marionneaux said in an interview. “I don’t think it’s intentional by other leagues. I just don’t think they go out of their way to make it possible for poor people, or especially Black and brown people, to be able to play in their league. And these same leagues are leagues that helped us get started. So I don’t think it is on purpose, I just think it is not a priority. It’s just not a plan to address the issue.”

Not only will the new league be free to play in, but BMCDC will provide bats, gloves, cleats, and even transportation to practices and games.

Marionneaux said the intent is to have three teams in each of four age groups, providing playing time for kids of all genders aged 4-12. If more players register, more teams will be added.

“This is our first year, and our second year we think the numbers will go up a lot more,”  Marionneaux said.

He hopes to invite existing teams to play exhibition games against the new BMCDC teams in addition to pitting the BMCDC teams against each other. 

Teams will practice once a week and games will take place on the weekends at Elver Park from June through August. Coaches, umpires and drivers will all be volunteers who pass background checks. 

Marionneaux said the league isn’t just about what happens between the lines.

“We have a league (where) kids from all over Dane County, not just one corner, will be able to play each other. And we’ll be able to build that community between the kids at an early age,” he said. “Baseball’s a way to do community.”

And not just for the kids – Marionneaux hopes that parents and families will get to know each other and create connections in the bleachers as well.

At 6’8”, Marionneaux grew into a college basketball player, but baseball is where his love of sports started.

“Baseball was my first love,” he said. “When I was a poor kid on the south side of Chicago, I used to go to the park and watch the kids play baseball because I couldn’t afford to play. My mom couldn’t afford it. She was a single mom with five kids in the house. So I used to sit and watch and then one day, somebody asked to play catch with me. And I started playing catch with my bare hands because I was there, happy to play. And they’re like, no, you got to put the glove on. And you know, then I started learning how to play baseball. It was something fun, it was something safe, it was something to learn. And it was a sport where team play was everything. I got better friends from all over.”

“An expensive situation”

Marionneaux said it’ll take around $100,000 to get the league up and running. About half of that will go toward the purchase of two vans to get players to practice and games, and the other half will go to uniforms, equipment, field upkeep and other expenses.

At the moment, BMCDC is footing the bill using the revenue it generates from its job placement contracts.

“Donations or not, we’re doing this,” Marionneaux said. But donations and sponsorships will help make it the best experience possible for the kids.

“We want them to feel proud,” Marionneaux said of the prospective players. “We want them to have their own cleats. We’ve got to get them cleats. We got to get them the uniforms, tops and bottoms. We’ve got to get them a belt so that pants aren’t sagging off of them. And then we have to do transportation. That’s gas and vehicles. So this is an expensive situation. And we really would like to have Dane County support this because it’s necessary.”

Marionneaux said the league will focus on recruiting Black youth, it’s open to kids of all races and ethnicities.

Player registration, volunteer registration and donations can all be done at baseball.bmcdc.org. The league is also seeking sponsors from $500 to $25,000.

“We just want to be able to make sure those kids do have the experience to play baseball and still enjoy their childhood as they’re supposed to,” Marionneaux said. “They did not make the decision on where they were to be born.”