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Here are the numbers.

Before 1947, there were zero African-Americans in Major League Baseball.

In 1975, African-Americans accounted for an all-time high of 27 percent.

In 2012, eight percent.

For years, MLB has attributed to the lack of resources in the urban areas, where African-American youths are most prevalent, for the reason for the decline and piss-poor numbers of African-Americans on MLB rosters. MLB even started the RBI program, which purpose is to “revive baseball in the inner cities.” And for a program, which claim of having 170 participants being drafted since its inception in 1989, eight percent is still, well eight percent.

A program that has potential to reverse the trend is the little known Metropolitan Junior Baseball League.

The MJBL was founded in 1966 in Richmond, Virginia. Its mission, in part, is “to provide urban youth the opportunity to travel to other cities, compete in the game of baseball and to be exposed to diverse cultures.” It is offered to youth 1o through 19 years of age and with coordination from HBCUs, has a MJBL World Series for 12U.

I was unfamiliar with MJBL until today when I was sent out to cover one of the area teams for the Richmond-Times Dispatch. Played at one of the area high schools, I was very apprehensive when I arrived. But as the game went on, I began to see something larger.

Watching these kids, play, I began to visualize the Negro Leagues. I began to see that this how they use to play, in front of small crowds on borrowed fields with least than the standard number of umpires and fans shagging foul balls just to keep the game moving.

(Ironically, the Richmond team played a team from Rocky Mount, N.C. called the Buck Leonard RBI, named after the Negro League great and Rocky Mount native Buck Leonard.)

“It has been a great program for inter-city ball teams,” said Steven Nutall, coach for one of the Richmond-based 16U teams. “It gives the kids the opportunity to interact with different kids from all over the country, have fun and enjoy the game of baseball.”

“It’s a learning tool,” continued Nutall, who has been part of the MJBL for a decade. “It gives the kids the opportunity to see different types of baseball, to move forward, work harder and put them in a good position to have (talent) scouts looking at them.

“The MJBL gives these kids the exposure, to give people the chance to see that inner-city baseball is still alive and it still have kids that aren’t turning towards Michael Jordan or Carmelo (Anthony).  It demonstrates that they shouldn’t have to be limited to just one thing.”

There were some sloppy play, as one can expect from kids who are learning a very fundamentally challenging sport, but there was some gems, especially from 15-year-0ld Chris Hayden of Richmond.

Hayden, who has played in the MJBL Classic for four years, pitched seven innings, striking out 12 and allowing just two hits. His father got him into baseball when he was eight and he began pitching when he was 11.  However, walks and errant pitches allowed runs to score from Buck Leonard RBI which unfortunately gave Hayden the loss.

“(MJBL) is good,” Hayden said. “It gives black children a way to play to baseball. A lot of kids from my neighborhood doesn’t like to play baseball so it’s good.”

Hayden’s opposition on the mound, Buck Leonard RBI’s southpaw Jamal Robbins, wasn’t too shabby either. He struck out nine, allowing just one run on five hits.

In the end, Buck Leonard RBI won the game 3-1 but there are no losers in this game. For with each swing of the bat, each ground ball fielded, each strike thrown and each play at the plate, another inner-city child is winning.


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