Baseball not surviving in urban areas

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, September 17, 2003

Former Southern University slugger Rickie Weeks has all the tools coming out of college &045; great instincts, super quick wrists and a great contact hitter.

But one thing is different about him.

He is black.

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Weeks is part of what was described in Sports Illustrated last week as a vanishing breed &045; a black baseball player. The sport that first integrated with Jackie Robinson and set the stage for so many others to follow is now becoming devoid of African-American ball players as 10 percent of major leaguers are black, down from 27 percent in 1975.

The problem, as the report indicated, isn’t just at the professional level. It’s all the way down to the lower levels in a nationwide survey that shows more black youths turning away from baseball.

&uot;A lot of black kids aren’t playing,&uot; said Alcorn State veteran head coach Willie &uot;Rat&uot; McGowan, who won his 600th game this year.

&uot;But what I think most of it is is most of the high school coaches are white, and you’ve got to be disciplined. When the man says something to get them on the right track, a lot of times they quit. I agree that a lot of them are not playing like they need to, but they’ve got all kinds of excuses when you talk to them.&uot;

McGowan can recall days from his childhood when weekends were filled with neighborhood baseball games, and others in the SI report &045; namely Dwight Gooden &045; said the same.

McGowan pointed out there’s still plenty of black baseball players in Mississippi, but in some areas that number is dwindling, also.

Natchez has a number of good young black players &045; you’ll soon here of C.J. Wright, Desmond Smoot and Jason Hayes &045; but, say, Vicksburg don’t have but one or two.

&uot;Baseball is America’s sport, but (black players) are saying they don’t want them on the team and they want an all-white team,&uot; McGowan said.&160;&uot;If you’ve got enough talent, that man will play you &045; white or black. I hope one day it comes back, but right now it’s kind of down. When&160;I go recruiting, they might not have but one black player or have any. It’s tough.&uot;

Recruiting has taken on a different face in the Southwestern Athletic Conference in recent years as more and more whites are playing in the league made up of historically black colleges.

Mississippi Valley State made a bold move three years ago by hiring Doug Shanks, who is white. This spring his team had 19 white players and eight black players, and the team was SWAC runner-up.

McGowan signed his first white players four years ago in catcher James Neely from Canada, and this spring he had seven white players.

But to reverse the trend you can take Weeks &045; recruited by just two colleges out high school &045; and others currently enjoying success, namely Florida left-hander Dontrelle Willis.

And at places like Alcorn, it’s a great opportunity to start.

&uot;He (Weeks) will really help our conference,&uot; McGowan said. &uot;We needed that exposure. Now it comes back to what I told you, if you can play, you can get drafted. That’s the kind of ball players we have, and that’s the kind of ball we’re trying to play.&uot;

Adam Daigle

is sports editor of The Natchez Democrat. You can reach him at (601) 445-3632 or by e-mail at adam.daigle@