Major League Baseball wants more city kids to ‘play ball’ – Baltimore Sun

There were few African-Americans in the major leagues when Frank Robinson arrived in 1956. It was only nine years after Jackie Robinson had shattered baseball’s color barrier.

“I didn’t have a role model,” the 79-year-old former Oriole said Wednesday at a baseball clinic at Carroll Park. “I respected Jackie Robinson and some of the other guys that were playing. But my mother was my role model.”

Nearly six decades after the Hall of Famer made his debut, Robinson, Major League Baseball Commissioner Rob Manfred and other baseball dignitaries came to Baltimore to try to stir interest in the sport among inner-city youths.

They said that rekindling passion for baseball among African-American kids in Baltimore and other cities rests partly on ensuring they can see — and relate to — successful role models.

“It’s important,” said Robinson, who appeared with Manfred and Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake at one of the first of scores of Play Ball youth clinics being hosted around the country by Major League Baseball and the U.S. Conference of Mayors.

On a sunny afternoon, a few hundred kids practiced batting, pitching, fielding and running bases.

Baseball struggles in Baltimore, as in other cities, to compete for youths’ attention with basketball, football, soccer and other sports.

Analysts say part of the problem is the expense of fielding teams, particularly travel squads.

“Baseball is gaining,” said Don Salamone, a program assistant with the city Department of Recreation and Parks. But he agrees that “kids need more role models. Most of our leagues are African-American kids.”

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