Friday, January 21, 2011

101 BLACK MEN AND ONE WHITE KID

The summer before Brett was to start his years of High School it was beginning to look like his baseball career was coming to a close.  He was going to be attending a small school his freshman year that only supported the sport of basketball.  They were good in basketball getting invited to Columbia to play on Mizzou's home court in the finals of the state championship several times.  The sport was so big that Brett even tried out for, and survived the cuts, to become a member of the freshman and junior varsity teams.

It just so happened that the year Brett was to be a Freshman at Hogan the school decided to spread out into other sports.  The school was growing and they decided to field a football team and a baseball team that year.  Brett wasn't sure if he wanted to play another year of baseball and he received no pressure from me to do so.  It wasn't easy but I backed off and let him make his own decision.  Finally on the day that tryouts for baseball were to begin Brett decided he would give it a shot.  He went out and immediately became the starting second baseman for the very first Hogan baseball team and I let go a huge sigh of relief knowing that I would get to see him play more baseball.

He had a good year with his glove and at the plate.  He was third on the team in hitting percentage and first in on base percentage.  As his father I will admit I was more than a little proud.  The team as a whole did not fair very well.  They were playing well established baseball programs and most of the kids on the Hogan team had come to Hogan to play basketball.  There were even a few that had never played organized baseball before.  Brett became one of a few players that ended up helping the coaching staff explain strategy to those boys who did not understand it.

The coaching staff was a very good.  The head coach loved baseball and passed his enthusiasm to a bunch of kids who were losing almost every game by a wide margin.  When that first season of baseball came to a close the team had won just two games.  One of the coaches had plans for some of the kids during the rest of the summer though.  Duane and his friend Melvin were putting a team together to play in a fairly tough league in south Kansas City.  They had most of the pieces of the team together before the Hiogan season was finished.

The one spot they had a problem at was second base.  They currently had a kid playing second that had such a quick glove and strong arm they wanted him to play at third base.  The problem was that they didn't have anyone to step into the second base position.  That is why Duane approached us about Brett playing in the league.  They had a good sponsorship and it would cost Brett practically nothing to play ball for the summer.  Brett decided that he would do it.  He liked coach Duane and enjoyed playing under him.  Duane told us to have brett at Clark-Ketterman field at about six thirty one Tuesday night.  We agreed and the rest of Brett's baseball career was set into motion.

We were at the ball field a little early that first Tuesday night.  Duane had told us what field we were to meet him at and so we staked out a position on a picnic table close to the field.  We started watching players arriving and soon came to notice something.  There was a team arriving that wore shirts with their sponsor emblazoned across the front of the jerseys.  The sponsor was an organization of men that helped inner city kids have something to do to instill pride in themselves and to give them adult guidance to steer them away from all the problems that every kid faces these days.  The group called themselves "101 Black Men" and they did do a good job following through on their mission.  As we watched the two teams assemble it became apparent that one team was almost totally made up of white kids while the 101 Black Men team was totally made up of black kids.  That isn't too surprising you may say but a thought creeped into our minds. Duane was a black man.  His friend Melvin was a black man.  Maybe we had the wrong field?

That thought was dispensed with when Duane and Melvin came walking up to us.  Melvin told Duane to get the kids started warming up while he took Brett back to his apartment to get him a uniform for the game.  Brett and Melvin were gone about fifteen minutes.  When they came back Brett was quite a sight to see.  The pants of the uniform he was sporting were at least ten sizes too big.  He had a belt cinched up so that his waist was skinny but the pants ballooned out like a clown outfit. The shirt was too big as well so it was just hanging on his small trim frame.  He looked like a total clown.  He was my clown though and so I didn't make any comments about the uniform Melvin had supplied him with.  Melvin said he would get him a better fitting uniform by the next game.

Duane saw Brett arrive and told him to get out to second base and moved the current second baseman over to third.  This was what Duane and Melvin had been waiting for.  Now they felt like they had a solid infield with everyone at the position they would be best at.  Brett looked quite at home with his new teammates.  He didn't even seem to notice the words glaring from his chest.

For Barb and I it was a proud moment.  Not only the fact that Brett was wanted on a team and that he was good enough to be wanted.  It was the fact that no one on that team, not Brett, not his fellow ball players, not his coaches, not the parent's attending the game seemed to notice that one of these things were not like the others.

Brett would play for Melvin and Duane for the next three years playing from early spring until late in the fall every year until his baseball career came to a quiet end and he began to pick up softball playing for the church.

Looking back it was quite and a scene that all of us including the coaches, the parents and the other players would forget.  A team of eight young black men with well fitting uniforms that showed off their struts of confidence and then that second baseman out there.  I short little white kid with a pair of clown pants billowing out from his waist sporting a jersey way too big for him with the bold words "101 Black Men" written across the front of it.

1 comment:

  1. That team was a lot of fun for the players too, and none of us ever forgot those first games together. Sitting in the "dugout" listening to our parents chatter behind us as they got to know the people they'd be watching the games with for the rest of the summer. Each of us naturally knew our parents voices and listened with interest as they would ask another adult the same questions. 1) Which one is yours? And 2) How long have they been playing whatever position?

    Every kid on that bench knew when my parents were being asked, as the 2 questions differed slightly as the answer to the first one was more than obvious. The core 6 or 7 players from that team played together on the same teams for the next 3 years....each team a top team except for the 101 Black Men and 1 White Guy. Truth be told, i think every member of that team had more fun that year than any other year.

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