It was eight years ago that veteran baseball coach Charles Mayden envisioned baseball teams that would compete at a level that would almost mirror the Negro League baseball. As the numbers of black players in Major League Baseball dwindled, his vision developed. Now he is in the final planning stages of launching the National Urban Professional Baseball League (NUPBL) that will begin its inaugural season in 2018.
According to its press release, the organization is seeking “the best baseball players from across the United States and the world.”
“We’ve been working behind the scenes to put the pieces in place and making sure that the timing was right to unveil it and we feel this is time until it’s needed,” Mayden said a week after the announcement of the league was made public. “We’ve been getting calls from across the country, more importantly from African-Americans excited about the idea and opportunity that they feel this league will present for African-American baseball players.”
A 2015 Wall Street Journal story revealed data from the National Sporting Goods Association showing that the number of youth baseball players ages 7 to 17 has declined from 8.8 million in 2000 to 5.3 million in 2013, and the number of softball players has declined from 5.4 million to 3.2 million.
Mayden believes that for youths in low-income areas that number is increasingly larger. On the major league level, In 1981 African-Americans represented 18.7 percent of Major League Baseball players and in 2015 that number dropped to 7.8 percent – a 70 percent drop in 34 years, according to Sports Grid.
“I’ve been in the game 38 years myself. I’m a former major league scout. I coached college baseball, coached high school baseball, and baseball, No. 1, it’s just in my blood,” Mayden said. “It’s my passion. I live each day to see the game. More importantly, I see a decline of African-American baseball players being given the opportunity to play baseball. So it’s the decline of African-American baseball players in the game that really drive this motivation behind this particular league.”
Born and raised on the far South Side of Chicago, Mayden refers to himself as a “Chicago city boy.”
“[There is a ] decline in local community leagues,” he said. “So they are becoming more nonexistent, so this is the process to actually revive the interest in baseball.”
Mayden suggested that families get children involved in youth sports such as baseball early on to help encourage them.
“We need to do something for our kids, because in most cases they’re a lost cause because they become a victim of their environment, so we have a social and economic problem going on in our community from the lack of jobs, lack of wealth flowing through our community,” Mayden said. “On the other hand, we have nothing for our kids to do, creative activities, and positive activities, and positive role models in our community. So they become victims of the street. So the system ties into the destruction going on in inner-city communities, which feed to the economic imbalance of other communities.”
Mayden and his team use a number of qualities from the Negro League. They plan to name some of the teams after Negro League players. Their goal is to “evoke their memories and their history.” Some planned names are the Satchel Paige All-Stars and the Josh Gibson All-Stars.
“So when you got the announcers saying, ‘Welcome to today’s ball game. It’s the Satchel Paige All-Stars taking on the Josh Gibson All-Stars,’ you’re evoking the legacy of those players. And we want to have each night at the ballpark to have a different theme. For example, Motown Night may be on Wednesday night, Blues Night may be on Thursday night, when you come to the ballpark and that’s the atmosphere. And then bring out something that’s characteristic of the past with the history of Negro League baseball,” Mayden explained.
Mayden wants to begin developing the league in the South, where smaller markets exist. He said the league would get financial backing from donors, sponsorships and his personal investment.
“[If] we try to start in a big city like Chicago, New York, Detroit – No. 1, we have Major League teams there, which will be competing for that same corporate dollar and that same sponsorship that you would be competing for, so you’re at a disadvantage.”
Mayden is in the midst of negotiating leases for stadiums they look to use as their home sites.
“In late May, June, July, August, we’ll be holding statewide tryouts. We’ll be going to a number of different cities holding tryouts to start officially forming the teams. Once we form the team, we will do a fall league in Arizona, an eight-week fall league, September to October. And then we’ll come back in the spring of 2018 and officially launch the league with a four-team league.
There will be a 90-game schedule. The organization will look to have 24 players on a team and more than 100 jobs will be created with coaches and staff as well as support positions by October.
“Right now we’re just trying to get the word out and form the teams and generate that buzz about what we’re doing.”
Mayden hopes to see the black community embrace the league “and make it a national example where people would come here from all over the world.”
“We want everybody in the United States and outside the United States to know that the Urban Professional Baseball League is here, it’s coming, and we’re trying to be here for a long time,” said Mayden.