Inner-city program is help to kids

A restored park has given underprivileged youth a chance to play baseball.

CLEVELAND (AP) — For the first time in nearly 20 years, kids are playing baseball again on a city ball field that is a symbol of Major League Baseball’s effort to revive interest in the sport among black youth.

A professional landscaper restored a neglected, weed-covered diamond at Marion Motley Playfield on the city’s east side last month, giving kids in the neighborhood a place to practice and an opportunity to form a team in the Cleveland Baseball Federation.

The federation runs youth baseball leagues in Cleveland and is also the city’s link to Major League Baseball’s Reviving Baseball in Inner Cities (RBI) program.

Hidden talent

“There’s a lot of hidden talent down here,” said coach Markeys Hines, 36, smiling at the sight of his players running and kicking up dust on the diamond’s new surface.

A study by the University of Central Florida’s Institute for Diversity and Ethics in Sports found that 8.4 percent of major league players last season were black, the lowest level in at least two decades.

Reasons for the decline are complex. Some blame the rising popularity of football and basketball among black youth, but also poverty.

With a $180,000 grant from the Cleveland Indians, the RBI program has provided equipment and other resources to about 6,000 players in the city.

The game’s revival in the Kinsman neighborhood is a labor of love for Hines, who played there growing up and whose enthusiasm for starting a new team was initially met with skepticism by federation officials.

“I told him I didn’t know if there was a market for baseball down here anymore,” said Joe Wise, operations director for the Cleveland Baseball Federation. Kids in the neighborhood stopped caring years ago and adults stopped trying, Wise said.

Car is bus

Hines is so dedicated that his Ford Explorer serves as the team’s equipment room and bus, transporting kids to and from games.

The team lost four of its first six games — winning the other two by forfeit when the opposing team failed to show up with enough players.

But Hines said the whole experience is worth it.

“A baseball field is a good place to keep kids out of trouble,” Hines said. “When I was a kid coming up, we had things to do, other things than standing on the corner.”

Hines said he thinks some of his players have enough talent to play high school ball.

The kids say having the opportunity to play in a league is rewarding.

Anthony Stevenson, 13, would be whiling away summer days at his grandmother’s apartment, waiting for his mom to get home from work, if not for baseball.

“I like it. I like to run,” he said.

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