Tag: Major League Baseball

Showcasing Black Baseball Talent Amid a Pandemic

By Michael October 7, 2020 0

There is a myth that Black youngsters are not playing baseball these days. If you look at Major League Baseball (MLB) rosters and most Historical Black Colleges and Universities (HBCU), it is easy to come away with that impression. Around eight percent of professional baseball players are Black Americans. This number is down from approximately 30 percent in the late 1970s, thirty years after Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier that kept Black baseball players off major league rosters. read more

Should Major League Baseball Do More in Light of Cindy Hyde-Smith Donation?

By Michael November 26, 2018 0

I’m sure had I met Cyn Marsh before I was introduced to baseball, she would have been my first love.

But I didn’t. And although she is my ride or die today, she wasn’t my first love. I would not meet the future Mrs. Harvey until 22 years later.

My uncles Paul and John introduced me to the game of baseball one Sunday afternoon in the spring of 1956. The adults took the kids outside to work off a delicious after-church meal of fried free-range chicken, mashed potatoes, butter beans, corn bread, and fresh blackberry cobbler. We used an old broomstick for a bat and a red rubber ball. It was about the size of a baseball. read more

Pro Baseball Scouts and Coaches Hold Clinic In Atlanta

By Michael November 12, 2017 0

Steve Williams, President of Professional Scouting for the Pittsburgh Pirates Baseball Club, was all smiles on a recent chilly Saturday morning. What brought a smile to his face was the sight of 100 young, mostly black, men on the baseball diamond at Westlake High School in Atlanta, Georgia.

There was a gleam in his eyes that matched the radiant smile on his face as he looked across the ball field with the watchful eye of a mentor, coach and scout.

“It’s all about teaching these young men how to care for somebody else,” Williams said.

“If they see us taking time with them, helping them to get better as ball players, as young men; helping them to earn a seat in a college classroom or on a professional ball team, then when they have reached their goal they will do for others what they have seen us do for them,” Williams said, explaining why his professional organization for scouts and coaches conduct a baseball clinic as part of their annual meeting each year.

He is president of the Buck O’Neil Professional Scouts and Coaches Association. Ostensibly it is a scouts and coaches association to develop minority scouts and coaches. However, Williams is quick to note that the association is open to any scout or coach seeking continuing education to develop their careers.

“During our annual meeting, we offer seminars on career development on Thursday and Friday, then on Saturday, we invite the top 100 high school baseball players in the host city to participate in a baseball clinic,” Williams said.

Chip Lawrence, National Scouting Supervisor for the San Diego Padres, whose Pro Youth Foundation hosted a showcase for 180 youngsters last weekend in Atlanta, said he learned some interesting things about personal and career development during this weekend’s meeting of the Buck O’Neil Professional Scouts and Coaches Association.

“I learned the importance of being prepared when opportunities present themselves. And of course I am continuing to learn more about statistical data and the role it plays in evaluating talent,” Lawrence said.

This year’s seminar included presentations from Tony Clark from the Major League Baseball Players Association, Jeff Hood the CEO of the Police Athletic League and Louisiana Congressman and President of the Congressional Black Caucus, Cedric Richmond.

After two days of classroom work for the 100 scouts and coaches in attendance, they hit the field on Saturday and taught a variety of skills to the 100 inner city ball players present.

Down in the bullpen, Marvin Freeman, former pitcher for the Atlanta Braves and Colorado Rockies, was holding court. He was as down to earth as Bob Braddy, the College Baseball Hall of Famer, who coached him at Jackson State University.

“You have to be smart to be a pitcher,” Freeman barked to about two dozen high school pitchers.

“Why would you want to play in the field or have to get your hands beat up holding a bat, when you can stand on the mound and throw the ball to a spot to get a batter out,” Freeman intoned.

Freeman taught the youngsters the basic mechanics and the thought processes of getting that one batter out that could spell the difference between your team going home a winner rather than a loser.

“If you hit your spot,” he said to a left hander preparing to throw a four seam fastball on the outer half of the plate to a right hand batter, “with 80,000 folks in the stands screaming, on the road, if you throw a strike here the whole stadium goes quiet and the next thing you see is your catcher running towards you to show you some love, you miss your spot and your girlfriend is going home with the batter,” Freeman bellowed.

Then he instructed the pitcher to cut loose a four-seamer on the outer half of the plate. The young pitcher working from the stretch, toed the rubber, then  hurled the ball towards home plate. After the ball popped into the catcher’s mitt, Freeman thundered, “Everybody loves you man.”

At home plate, Lenny Webster, the last African American to play catcher for a major league team was tutoring twelve black high school catchers in the art of being an asset to the team.

“Your pitcher, your manager, your coaches will absolutely love you if you save them a run. So my advice to a young catcher, is to pride yourself in saving a run,” Webster preached.

“If you can throw, that’s good, but what these scouts want to know, can you block a baseball, can you save me a run,” Webster said.

In other drills the professional scouts instructed the players on how to get a lead off first base and how to advance from second base to third base. They were getting into the nitty-gritty mechanics about vision, balance, positioning of the feet that makes a major league base runner a major league base runner.

Mike Simonds, who operates a film booking company in the Atlanta area, was one of a few white parents to bring their son to the event. Simonds knows the value of the insight being taught by the Buck O’Neil Professional Scouting and Coaches Association.

“I spend roughly 5-6 thousand dollars a year on baseball for Owens,” he said, referring to his son.

Simonds said he learned of the baseball clinic from a scout who also coaches Owens in private sessions.

“These camps costs anywhere from $125 up to $450, so I figured if I could get him some instruction for free, I was going to take advantage of it, he said.

Simonds added, “It’s hard for an American family to compete in preparing their kid for baseball with all the free training the kids are getting down in the Caribbeans. I do the best I can, but there are not many families who can afford to do what I do.”

When Owens had his bullpen session with Freeman, after his first pitch to the catcher, Freeman asked the young right hander, “You are a relief pitcher, aren’t you.” The quiet Owens nodded his head, “Yes.”

Freeman spotted something in Owens’ throwing mechanics, then asked Owens, “What other sports are you involved in?”

“Swimming,” Owens said.

Whereupon Freeman, like a college professor, began to analyze the similarities and differences in the movement of the arm through the water to make a stroke and the physics of throwing a pitch when it is targeted for the outer half of the plate.

Priceless baseball instruction from people who know the ends and outs, ups and down, the joys and the heartbreaks that baseball can bring to a young man’s life.

“We got over 50 scouts out here, all 30 Major League Baseball franchises are represented here today,” Danny Montgomery, Special Assistant to the Colorado Rockies, told the parents of the young baseball players.

“Today we are here for you. Now is the time to ask any of them any question you might have. We want to give you the information that you need that will help these guys be better people and better players,” Montgomery said.

“This is our 17th clinic,” said Williams, who played collegiate baseball at Clemson.

The significance of this is that the kids participating in the Atlanta clinic were just born when Williams convinced the legendary Negro Leaguer Buck O’Neil to lend his name to this fledgling association designed to improve the skills of professional scouts, coaches and amateur baseball players in urban America.

Surely “Buck” O’Neil was beaming down a radiant smile that matched the smile of Steve Williams as the wind swept across the diamond at Westlake High School.

Harold Michael Harvey is an American novelist and essayist. He is a Contributor at The Hill, SCLC National Magazine, Southern Changes Magazine and Black College Nines. He can be contacted at hmharvey@haroldmichaelharvey.com

The Day A Fan Thought I was Willie Mays

By Michael July 4, 2016 0

Willie Mays, I am not. I had almost forgotten the day a baseball fan thought I was Willie Mays. I like to think that I was a good baseball player when I was in my prime, but no way as proficient with the bat, the glove or as fleet on the basepath as the “Say Hey Kid.”

What prompted this reflection is the news that the Atlanta Braves, formerly my hometown team, and the Florida Marlins played a game, the day before the 240th birthday of the United States of America. The game was played before 12,500 soldiers and their families on a ball field constructed at Fort Bragg, North Carolina just for this one game.

The boxscore is not what is important or to be remembered from this game. The fact that Major League Baseball devoted the time and the resources to bring a regular season game, that will count in the standings, to the men and women who protect the homeland with little financial reward is how this game should be remembered when sports fans look at this event.

I applaud Major League Baseball, the front offices of the Braves and Marlins, the coaches and players for bringing a bit of joy into the lives of our soldiers and their families.

This leads me back to the day an obvious fan of the game thought I was Willie Mays. It happened during my second year as a collegiate baseball player. I was an outfielder for the Tuskegee Institute Golden Tigers. It was early March, 1972. The sun was out but a chill hung over the stadium. My school, Tuskegee Institute was playing Albion College. We often played predominately white universities who traveled south to play games in the early spring while their baseball diamonds thawed out from the late winters experienced in the north.

Coach James Martin penciled me in the lineup in center field to start the second game of a double-hitter. During the pregame warm-up I made a basket catch or two, to the chagrin of Coach Martin, and fired a strike from center to home plate. When I trotted off the field, I heard someone in the stands say, “Hey Willie Mays.” I had no idea the fan was talking to me.

We were playing this game, similar to the game played by the Braves and Marlins at Fort Bragg, for the benefit of military veterans who were undergoing treatment at the Veterans Administration Hospital in Tuskegee, Alabama.

Each year Coach Martin would schedule a game or two for the veterans. The hospital was built in 1923 within walking distance of the Tuskegee Institute campus, to service Black veterans who had been injured in World War I. The property was part of the 5,000 acres of land amassed by Lewis Adams and Booker T. Washington for the school at Tuskegee. Washington’s successor Robert Russo Moton, donated the land to the federal government so this hospital could be built. This was the first VA facility specifically built to care for Black servicemen who complained of not getting adequate care when they visited facilities that catered to white veterans.

Many of the servicemen at the Tuskegee VA had mental health challenges as a result of their participation in World War II. They came to the stadium in wheelchairs, some with walking canes, some assisted by a nurse. While others walked under their own power. They were excited to see a baseball game between Black and White players.

When it was nearing my time to bat, I took a 33 ounce Louisville Slugger out of the bat rack and sauntered to the on-deck circle. I took a knee, held the wooden bat in a vertical position in the palm of my right hand and leaned forward, just like I had seen Mickey Mantle do it in old Yankee Stadium.

“Hey Willie,” one veteran yelled, “hit a homerun for me!”

Now I finally get it, this fan thinks I am Willie Mays. Although, Mays would retire from the game after the World Series later that year with diminishing skills from the kid who broke into the league in 1952, I could not see how this Vet could mistake me for Mays.

“That ain’t Willie Mays,” another veteran yelled.

“You don’t know what you are talking about, that is Willie Mays,” the first Vet said.

“It can’t be,” the second Vet said, “he wearing number 39, that’s Roy Campanella.”

Then the PA announcer said, “Now in the on-deck circle is Harold Harvey from Macon, Georgia.”

“That ain’t no Harold Harvey,” the first Vet said, “that’s Willie Mays. Hit that ball out the park Willie Mays.”

“See I told you that wont no Willie Mays,” the second Vet said.

“Walking to the batter’s box is Harold Harvey,” the announcer said.

“Hit that ball out of the ball park, Willie,” the first Vet yelled!

I grounded out to third.

“That’s alright Willie, you’ll get him next time,” the first Vet shouted!

On my next at bat I drew a walk, but had a slower base runner on second base and did not get a chance to dazzle the veterans with my baserunning skills. The game was called after five innings so the teams could get to the campus cafeteria before it closed.

I did not hit that home run for the veteran who thought he was watching the great Willie Mays play baseball, but as the years pass, I look fondly on that day and the joy I brought to Black soldiers who served their country so that I could play baseball, the American pastime.

Harold Michael Harvey is an American novelist and essayist, the author of Paper puzzle and Justice in the Round. He can be contacted at haroldmichaelharvey.com.

SOURCES:

http://espn.go.com/blog/sweetspot/post/_/id/71978/fort-bragg-game-one-to-remember-for-players-and-fans

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tuskegee_Veterans_Administration_Medical_Center

Baseball, Glory, Glory, Baseball!

By Michael March 31, 2015 0

Baseball. That game of nine men pitted against nine other men which begins during the chill of early spring and ends with the thrills of a chilly autumn classic is upon us once again. I’ve always looked forward to the opening of baseball season.

Opening Day of the baseball season was a signal in my youth that the winter was over and it was time to get out of the house and move around a bit. A chance to pound your fist into the palm of your glove, spit in it and get the leather supple for the next baseball thrown or hit your way.

Baseball is more than the slides into second or third or home, grass stains on the pants in the area of the knees, or the frustration of trying to hit a 3-2 slider. Baseball is even more than the elation you felt when the ball connected with the sweet spot of the bat and the drive off your bat landed in the gap in left center field as your teammates on the bases ran home to score.

Yes, without a doubt there is something about baseball that is as eternal as the springtime, as enduring as tiny vegetation pushing itself up out of the ground reaching for the sky. I’ve been hooked on the game since a hastily organized game of stick ball after church one Sunday in the mid-1950s. I could not have been more than 5 years-old. I recall when it came my turn to bat, I took two swings at the ball and failed at each attempt. Then one of the bigger kids or adults took my last swing and when they hit the ball, I ran to first base. It was a thrill to run down the first baseline. I’ve been fascinated with the game since that Sunday afternoon.

Lately, I’ve been a baseball fan without a baseball team to root for, to cheer on to victory. To be sure there is, at least for another year, a baseball team in my hometown. They go by the name of the Atlanta Braves, but beginning in 2017, the Braves will be playing baseball up in Smyrna, Georgia. They are building a very fine facility up there and developing the community surrounding the new stadium. I can’t get over the way the Braves left the city of Atlanta without pumping any meaningful money into the economic development of the Buttermilk Bottom community that laid out the welcoming mat for them when they escaped from Milwaukee back in ’65.

I stayed up late, listening on the radio the night of their first game in Atlanta Fulton County Stadium against the Pittsburgh Pirates. Later that summer, my Mom boarded the old Nancy Hank train at the segregated depot in Macon, Georgia with my brother and I. We were headed to Atlanta to take in a game between the Braves and the San Francisco Giants.During the game I saw Willie Mays, Willie McCovey, Juan Marchiel, Hank Aaron, Eddie Mathews and Warren Spann.

I’ll never forget that Saturday and Sunday series. There was a double-hitter on Saturday.All three games were won by the Giants. The Sunday game ended after Willie Mays angrily yelled at his rookie left fielder to move to a certain spot on the field. After the first two pitches the rookie failed to move into the position Mays wanted him, but gave in before the third pitch and moved to the exact position on the field Mays had told him to play. On the next pitch the batter hit the ball right where the rookie was standing. Ball game over. I left the park thinking that Willie Mays was the greatest baseball player of all time.

When I went to college, I was not recruited out of high school, so I walked onto the team at Fort Valley State College and made the team. I did not get to start, but was able to contribute to the team off the bench in critical situations.

After my freshmen year, I decided to transfer to Tuskegee Institute. Again, I was in a position of having to walk-on to make the team. I made the team and played two seasons putting up a spectacular fielding percentage of .10000, stealing 25 bases and batting .280. Last summer, I was honored to give the acceptance speech for William C. Matthews, who was inducted into the National College Baseball Hall of Fame. Matthews had played baseball at Tuskegee Institute from 1893-97.

Back in ’65, my mom taught me you could always hop onto a public conveyance and take in a baseball game in a faraway city. Since I don’t have a hometown baseball team to root onto victory, next week, when the baseball season starts, I will board a plane for a trip to Cincinnati to take in the opening game of the season between the Cincinnati Reds and the Pittsburgh Pirates. I’ll hang out with my son Coley, another avid baseball fan. We will watch the opening day parade that is held in Cincinnati every year, then onto Great American Ball Park for some peanuts, cracker jacks and baseball.

Baseball, glory, glory, baseball season is here again!

 

Harold Michael Harvey, is the author of the legal thriller “Paper Puzzle,” and “Justice in the Round: Essays on the American Jury System,” available at Amazon and at haroldmichaelharvey.com. He can be contacted at hmharvey@haroldmichaelharvey.com