Hochman: Fowler signing could be good for St. Louis beyond baseball – STLtoday.com
We are St. Louis, a city thatâs defined by unity: Everyone shares an unwavering love for the local baseball team and the magic that baseball can provide us.
We are St. Louis, a city thatâs divided by racial tensions, by the complicated compartmentalization of whoâs âgoodâ and whoâs âbad.â
It is thus timely that the Cardinalsâ newest star â a face of the franchise â is African-American. One ballplayer wonât change the world, so letâs not get too mushy here, but bringing in a star black player sends a little message, even if it wasnât intended. Dexter Fowler is a great guy and a strong role model and a welcome addition.
âI feel like being African-American, you get to reach both sides,â said the center fielder, who signed a five-year contract with St. Louis. âI feel like itâs exciting for my wife and I â my wife is Middle Eastern, so we have an interracial kid, obviously.
âYouâve got to bring everyone together. I think thatâs important.â
Why is Fowlerâs race even a story? For many, itâs not. Cardinals are Cardinals, and race shouldnât be part of a sports story. But there are numerous St. Louis families excited about Fowler, not just because heâs an awesome leadoff hitter.
Geno Clay has two sons, ages 1 and 7, and âIâm trying to get them into baseball, but (the older son) doesnât seem too interested, because he doesnât see too many people who look like him playing it,â said Clay, who is African-American. âThatâs one of the good things I said about Dexter coming here, because weâre always going to the games. â¦
âA lot of African-American kids growing up, all they know is football and basketball. Itâs good to see some African-Americans step up into baseball. And Iâm trying to get (my sons) away from the hard-contact sport of football, with all the concussion stuff. …
âI was excited when we got Fowler. I was hating him a few months ago â but now I love him! I was happy that we got an African-American back because we lost Jason Heyward last year.â
The Fowler signing says a couple of things. For one, it shows that the Cards still have the ability to lure a top free agent. After losing out on Heyward and David Price last winter, some of the Cardinals mystique had evaporated. And while Heyward, who was initially traded to St. Louis, didnât sign long-term, Fowler did â so Fowler will be part of the St. Louis community for a half-decade at least.
Heyward was splendid in his lone year here, but the Cards havenât had a long-term African-American key player for a while. And the last time the Cardinals had an All-Star who was African-American was 1997.
Of course, many of the franchiseâs living legends are African-American. Bob Gibson, Lou Brock, Ozzie Smith â Hall of Famers. Curt Flood has the ninth-best wins above replacement (42) in Cardinals history; Ray Lankford is 17th in Cardinals history (37). Willie McGee won an MVP. And players such as Brian Jordan, Ron Gant, Terry Pendleton, Lonnie Smith and Bill White had key roles on successful clubs in St. Louis.
And as we head into 2017, the Cards are multicultural. The presumed eight position players are an African-American, three Caucasians, a Cuban, a Dominican, a Puerto Rican and a native Hawaiian, whose great-grandparents were Chinese.
Itâs very cool, but letâs not get carried away here that eight men playing baseball will make St. Louis a utopia. Albert Pujols was a living legend â beloved â but itâs hard to suggest he radically swayed local views on Latinos.
And when Muhammad Ali passed away this year, the outpouring from Americans was really just incredible. But did it change the way Americans see Muslims? Itâs unlikely there will be a drastic change, and recent surveys from the Pew Research Center show that Muslims are not viewed warmly by a hefty percentage of Americans.
So with Fowler coming to St. Louis, it wonât alter the fabric of our society or anything grand like that. But, simply, itâs a cool thing: The city will unite over an African-American ballplayer for the first time in a while.
Itâs something. It canât hurt. Itâs about time.
And one can expect Fowler to became a fan favorite here, similar to his impact in Chicago. Heâs a driven ballplayer and a fun-loving persona, as seen in last Fridayâs public introduction in town. He gets on base and gets around the bases. He leads the league in smiles. And when he says, âNice to meet you,â he may actually, honestly, find it nice to meet you.
And on Saturday, he tweeted a picture of his young daughter. She was sitting upon a toy car, wearing an oversized cap. Fowler wrote: âI caught my daughter carrying her car downstairs with my new Cardinals hat saying âIâm going to St Louis.ââ
It was precious.
Dexter Fowler is a St. Louisan now.
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