In baseball, nine is a highly significant number. Consider nine innings, nine men on a side, and the number worn by trail-blazer Jackie Robinson during his only minor-league season, with the Montreal Royals of the International League in 1946.
Now No. 9 returns to prominence with the announcement of an outreach program for African-Americans launched this week by Minor League Baseball.
Called “the Nine” as a tribute to Robinson, who broke the nefarious baseball color line with the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1947, the initiative honors black pioneers and civil rights leaders in all 120 minor-league cities. It is also intended to create interest and participation in baseball and softball among young blacks – especially in places where such programming does not exist – and to generate a talent pool of African-Americans for future jobs in professional baseball.
Its logo features three words: engagement, creativity, and innovation.
A derivation of Major League Baseball’s Reviving Baseball in Inner Cities [RBI] program, The Nine will feature new competitions in MLB’s Pitch, Hit & Run and Junior Home Run Derby series and build relationships between professional baseball and black-owned businesses.
Working with artists and entertainers, it will embrace and explain black culture while bringing concerts, shows, and community events to minor-league parks, which are considerably more intimate than their big-league counterparts.
In minor-league cities that also house a black college or university, The Nine will offer on-the-job training to students before they enter the job market so that more young African-Americans will advance to executive positions with minor-league teams.
A virtual jobs fair, produced in partnership with TeamWork Online, has already created a talent pipeline that is constantly adding new minority candidates.
Minor League Baseball includes 120 teams in four classifications, with Triple-A the highest, followed by Double-A, High-A, and Single-A. Most of those teams are affiliates of major-league clubs. Virtually all of today’s top players began their careers in the minors.
Timed to coincide both with Robinson’s Jan. 31 birth date and the advent of Black History Month in February, the Nine is a year-round effort similar to the successful Copa de la Diversión Latino fan engagement program launched in 2017. Last year, more than 76 minor-league teams were involved.
Planned special events for The Nine include Negro Leagues commemorative games, such as those that honored the Page Fence Giants in Michigan, the Bradenton Nine Devils in Florida, and the Austin Black Senators in Round Rock, Texas.
According to Kurt Hunzeker, vice president of minor league business operations for Major League Baseball, the Nine will showcase teams’ commitment to representing, honoring, and welcoming all fans to minor-league games.
“The Nine is just the latest example of Minor League Baseball teams being community champions,” he said. It will feature a centralized national campaign of events and programming.
Although a labor dispute has paralyzed the majors since owners imposed a lockout on Dec. 2, Minor League Baseball is not involved.
Jackie Robinson integrated major-league baseball on April 15, 1947. The number 42 he wore that day and for the duration of his 10-year career, spent entirely as an infielder with the Brooklyn Dodgers, has been retired by all major-league teams. It was also the title of a 2013 movie based upon his life.
When Robinson was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1962, he became the first African-American in the Cooperstown gallery. Many more have followed.
Someday, graduates of The Nine’s initiatives could join them.
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