Baseball is the national pastime, but it’s a game that may need to find a way to reach the Black youth demographic.
“There aren’t as many African American kids playing the game that I would like to see,” Curtis Granderson, a three-time Major League Baseball All-Star, told TODAY.
The Sports & Fitness Industry Association keeps track of participation rates in youth baseball, dividing the data into two sectors. “Core” refers to kids who have played baseball 13 times or more during a given year, while “total” is defined by anyone who’s played baseball during a given year. From ages 6-12, the total rate of Black kids playing baseball jumped from 10.1% in 2008 (the first year for which data is available) to 11.1% in 2018 (the most recent year that information is available), although the core dropped from 8.9% to 8.4%.
The numbers are more troubling as Black children age. For the 13-17 age group, the total rate dipped from 9.4% to 9.2%, while the core figure tumbled from 7.6% to 6.1%.
“It gets a little difficult to really quantify kids playing baseball, but one thing that I do know is, based off of my experiences, I haven’t seen a lot of changes,” Granderson, who announced his retirement in January following a 16-year major league career, said.
“Starting out as a 6-year-old kid in T-ball, I was the only Black kid on my team and as I moved to the 7-, 8-, 9-year-olds, I might have been lucky enough to have one, maybe two teammates, if I was really lucky,” he said, while adding he didn’t have multiple Black teammates until he reached the minor leagues.
Don Pollard Jr., a lawyer from Winston, Georgia, is a Black father of four kids, including two sons, ages 16 and 8, who play organized baseball. He echoes Granderson’s take. “You do not see a lot of Black kids playing baseball,” he told TODAY.
Granderson runs the Grand Kids Foundation, which he created to encourage childhood development “through education, physical fitness and nutrition initiatives.” One of the programs includes baseball camps to teach the game to kids.
Granderson points to the many benefits for Black kids who play baseball, including being physically fit and learning teamwork. He says he knows people who played sports who’ve taken their experiences and applied it to adulthood.
“They’ve mentioned that hiring athletes is one of the things that they always look for because you’ve learned how to fail, you’ve learned how to work with teams, you’ve learned how to goal-set, you’ve learned how to stick to a schedule,” he said. “So, there’s all those different things the game of baseball can provide for kids, but they don’t realize until they step out in the real world.”
Major League Baseball provides programs for Black kids, although it is worth noting that Black representation among players in Major League Baseball has dwindled. In 2019, 8.2% of players on Opening Day rosters were Black, according to The Institute for Diversity and Ethics in Sport (TIDES), which has provided data on the matter since 1991, when it was 18%.
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