With all of the talk going on this week about the shooting that happened in Missouri, I feel like one of the most uplifting stories in long time is coming right out of my own hometown of Chicago. For the first time in thirty years, the all-African American team from Jackie Robinson West Little League (JRW) have made it to the Little League World Series (LLWS). Being someone who grew up playing youth baseball in Chicago and playing at a highly competitive level in high school on into college, I realize that the game of baseball gave me lifelong friends and life skills that have carried over for me in adulthood. Although I played on the Hyde Park Kenwood Little League traveling team from ages 10-12, I always admired teams that were eligible for the Little League World Series in Williamsport and JRW always had very strong athletes (many of which I played with or against in high school).
Last year, when I was watching the qualifying round of the Little League Regional Championships I noticed that JRW had finally fielded a team that could possibly be good enough to make it to Williamsport. I remember telling myself how great of a story it be for my city if an all black team from one of the most notorious areas in Chicago made it to Williamsport. This team was a lot younger back then and weren't quite ready to make the next step but this year they have looked like the juggernaut that I believed they would be if they made it back to the regional this year.
Fast forward to last night and I was sitting in a lawn chair, smoking a cigar with four of my best friends watching a jumbotron in the middle of Jackie Robinson park on 107th and Aberdeen watching these kids make history. Last night was everything that I've always felt was right about being from my city. Seeing so many faces-old and new - in park laughing, dancing and high-fiving one another just proves to me that my community is very resilient and formidable when we show strength and unity. Rallying around this bunch of 11, 12 and 13 year-olds has provided a beacon of hope at a time when my city so desperately needed it. Summer is generally the bloodiest time of year on the south side of Chicago and for once it seemed like time stood still and everyone and their families were basking in camaraderie, just enjoying the ability to rally around these youth and something shedding a positive light on our neighborhoods.
JRW is now one game away from making the US championship of the LLWS and I really believe that they have a legitimate shot to win if their pitching can hold up for the next couple of days. Everyone from Common to Magic Johnson to Mayor Rahm Emanuel have been supporting these kids and I truly don't know if these kids will realize the impact they are having on our community until they are much older. Yet in still, maybe it is better that way. Baseball is America's past-time and it is only fitting that an all black team bearing the name of the player that broke the Major League color line is breaking barriers all their own by providing a light of hope in the unseen and proud voice for the unheard. Oh and best believe, I will be out there again Thursday night with lawn chairs, Harold's Chicken, Cuban cigars and large cooler of libations to enjoy another JRW win. God bless Chicago.
Raised on the East side of Chicago. Globally Local. Cheers!