Like most of you, I went to a certain website to read the comments Gary Sheffield recently made. While Sheffield’s comments were idiotic and made me place my head in my hands and say “not again”, it was a comment posted on the article that got my immediate attention. 

  

The reader said: “In my opinion, Sheffield has been and always will be a racist. He’s the most, ‘What about me?’ guy in MLB. In my opinion, young African-American athletes are drawn to other sports like football and basketball. Little League baseball has lost its appeal in inner-city America due to the lack of available ball parks, practice fields and adults willing to coach young athletes in areas that are plagued by drive-by shootings, street drug trafficking and gangs.” 

  

But you know what? This person is half right. To say that inner city little league parks are plagued by drive-by’s, street drug trafficking and gangs is a generalization and a gross exaggeration. But as for the rest of the post, he or she was dead on. I’ve been a “blue” (that’s an umpire for those of you that didn’t know) for 6 years and I’ve worked predominately in “inner-city” areas and I can tell you that there are very few playable parks in which to play baseball where I ump. There are parks with tire tracks in the outfield because there were no home run fences built. The infields are all gravel with huge rocks that provide wicked bad hops. The dugouts are just a wooden or metal bench with a fence in front of it to protect the kids from line drive fouls. And not all parks have that fence. I played in a youth league for 10 years and played under these circumstances and the only time I saw a nice field was when I watched the Tigers. It wasn’t until I got to high school and also played some travel ball that I saw how REAL baseball fields looked: Grass infields, sizeable bleachers, well constructed dugouts and perfectly maintained facilities. 

  

It’s no wonder why little league numbers are down in inner-cities. When you combine the poor facilities with the fact that baseball doesn’t offer the hope of instant fame and fortune like basketball does, it’s obvious. While I do not speak for all black people or inner-city residents, I’ve noticed how many kids want to be the next LeBron, Kevin Garnett or Kobe and play in the NBA by the time they’re 20. Not many kids want to be the next Curtis Granderson (although they should). It also takes money to pay for equipment to play baseball. But to play basketball all you need is a basketball and something to shoot at. Any inner-city kid who loves baseball and wants to be a major leaguer can get there through hard work. Just as long as they don’t consider baseball a sport to play only to keep them busy in the basketball off-season. Regardless of what Gary thinks.