A Life-Long Dream Manifesting for Two Black College Baseball Coaches

January 20, 2022 Off By Michael

Marcus Smith and James Cooper Stepping into Their Dreams

Marcus Smith began his head coaching career at LeMoyne-Owen College before moving to Vorhees College and on his way to NCAA Division I, Lafayette College. Photo © 2017 Cascade Publishing House

Growing up in College Park, Georgia, Marcus Smith enjoyed playing baseball. It was a sport he excelled in, playing out of Old National Park from age six to fourteen. He earned an athletic scholarship to Albany State University, his mom’s alma mater. Like anyone who has ever played baseball as a kid, the thoughts of a professional career floated through Smith’s head.

During his senior year, Smith took stock of his talent. While he was an excellent collegiate baseball player, he did not draw the attention of baseball scouts, if any came down to Albany, Georgia. Smith knew he wanted a future in baseball, so he charted a course to land a head baseball coaching job at a National Collegiate Athletic Association, Division I school. A tall order for a young man playing in the Southern Intercollegiate Athletic Conference (SIAC), a Division- II program. There are only a handful of Black collegiate baseball coaches on the Division I level, and most of them head up programs at Historically Black colleges and Universities (HBCU).

But what is life without dreams?

Smith hasn’t landed a head coaching job at an NCAA D-I program yet, but he is getting a little closer to manifesting his dream job. In February, Smith will become an assistant baseball coach at Lafayette College, a 196-year-old private liberal arts college in Easton, Pennsylvania, named after General Marquis Lafayette, a Frenchman who became an American Revolutionary hero. His duties will require him to work with the infielders and assist the coaching staff with the school’s baseball camps.

Coach Marcus Smith talking about Black College baseball with Harold Michael Harvey. Photo © 2017 Cascade Publishing House

Coach Smith has served as assistant head baseball coach at Morehouse College and Clark-Atlanta University. In his first head baseball coach position at Lemoyne-Owen College in Memphis, Tennessee, Smith led a 2–19 team into the 2017 SIAC conference championship game after it fought its way out of the loser’s bracket beating a good Tuskegee University team, and his alma mater, Albany State, the tournament’s team favored to win it all. Despite losing the championship game, Smith was named the SIAC Outstanding Coach.

Following the 2018 season, Smith left Lemoyne-Owens and took over the Voorhees College baseball program. At the time, Voorhees played a National Athletic Intercollegiate Association (NAIA) schedule. Smith convinced the administration to begin a three-year program to move Voorhees into the NCAA Division II, SIAC. He leaves with plans well underway for this transition.

During the summer months, Smith lectures to prospective collegiate baseball players. He always ends his presentations by telling the kids to show their moms some love daily.

“The best lesson my mom taught me was always to remain humble, treat everyone with respect no matter how they treat you. She taught me to give one hundred percent no matter what I am doing,” Smith said, adding, “Most importantly, spiritually, put God first and treat my wife, Dr. Juanita Smith, with love daily.”

Another Chance in the Major Leagues

Coach James Cooper posing for a picture during the first annual Andre Dawson-Ralph Garr HBCU Baseball Classic. © 2021 Cascade Publishing House

At age 39, James Cooper is getting another shot at major league baseball. The Cullen, Louisiana native, grew up playing baseball, basketball, and football. Enrolling in Grambling University, Cooper came under the tutelage of legendary Grambling Head Baseball Coach Wilbert Ellis. He also played one year under Grambling Hall of Famer, and former major leaguer James “Sap” Randall, currently the head baseball coach at Claflin College. Cooper majored in marketing. He wanted a career on Wall Street, but the fleet centerfielder and baserunner caught the eye of professional baseball.

Unlike Smith, Cooper realized his first goal of playing professional baseball. The Houston Astros drafted him in the 33rd round. He played several years of minor league baseball. When it was time to hang up the cleats, he elected to return to school at Grambling, where he obtained a Master of Sports Management degree to go along with his undergraduate degree in marketing. Thinking that baseball was now a closed-door, Cooper set his sights on what would come next.

Then Coach Randall decided to leave Grambling baseball. Coach Ellis urged the administration to tap Cooper for the head baseball coach’s position. Cooper was just what the doctor ordered. He improved the baseball complex and stepped up the style of play on the field, making the Tigers a formidable force in the Southwest Athletic Conference Championship Tournament (SWAC) each year and nurturing several of his players into professional baseball.

Major League Baseball continued to tug on Cooper’s psyche. Last winter, the New York Yankees came calling. They offered Cooper a job as an outfield and baserunning coach.

“There are doors in baseball that only the New York Yankees can open up.” Legendary Coach Wilbert Ellis. Photo Courtesy of James Cooper Twitter page.

“It was a bit of a surprise when the Yankees reached out to me,” Cooper said, adding, “I was happy at Grambling. I talked it over with Coach Ellis, and he told me that ‘there are doors in baseball that only the Yankees could open up for me.’”

Now Coach Cooper, “Coop,” as his friends know him, has new baseball-related goals and aspirations.

“I want to develop as a major league coach. I want to get better at teaching outfielders and baserunners. It would be nice to be a bench coach or a third base coach. In the long-term, I want young Black baseball players to see me as a New York Yankee coach, to give them hope that their baseball dreams can come true.”

Harold Michael Harvey is the Living Now 2020 Bronze Medal winner for his memoir Freaknik Lawyer: A Memoir on the Craft of Resistance. He is the author of a book on Negro Leagues Baseball, The Duke of 18th & Vine: Bob Kendrick Pitches Negro Leagues Baseball. He writes feature stories for Black College Nines. Com. Harvey is a member of the Collegiate Baseball Writers Association, HBCU and PRO Sports Media Association, and the Legends Committee for the National College Baseball Hall of Fame. Harvey is an engaging speaker. Contact Harvey at hmharvey@haroldmichaelharvey.com.