Orioles center fielder Adam Jones is well aware he’s the only African-American among the 73 players in camp at Fort Lauderdale Stadium–on a team that represents a predominantly black city–and he views it as both a sign of the times and a call to action.
“It doesn’t bother me,” Jones said yesterday, “but I’d like to see more black athletes playing baseball.”
In that, at least, he isn’t alone. Baseball commissioner Bud Selig has made it an industry priority to increase the number of African-American children involved in baseball, and Major League Baseball makes grants to supply equipment and build baseball fields in urban areas through the RBI (Reviving Baseball in Inner Cities) program. Jones said now that he has become more established in the major leagues, he plans to get more involved in the RBI program and try to help change the fact that the national pastime ranks third as the sport of choice for aspiring young black athletes.
He’s clearly an elite athlete with the speed and strength to be successful at just about any sport. The only question left is whether he’ll be able to fully express all that talent on the baseball field. If he does, he could be an important role model for a new generation of black baseball players in the Baltimore area.
“I don’t see why a young African-American wouldn’t want to be like Adam Jones, wouldn’t want to wear a T-shirt with his name on it and be an outfielder,” added Shelby [Orioles coach John Shelby], an African-American.
And, in Baltimore, it still might be a tough sell when there are so many NBA players from the area. The kids in the inner city are much more likely to identify with Carmelo Anthony than anyone who plays for the Orioles, but Jones has a chance to get their attention.
Shelby is the first to acknowledge the other reasons it has become a major challenge to lure the top young black American athletes into baseball. The world has changed since baseball was the clear sport of choice for the generation of athletes who followed Jackie Robinson into the major leagues. There are many more options for today’s young black athletes, and some of them make more sense on a pretty basic level.
“One of the reasons they don’t continue to play is the expense of the sport,” Shelby said. “You’ve got to buy your own bats and gloves, and all those things are expensive. If you play basketball, all you need is a ball and a court. You go to college and everybody’s getting a full scholarship in football and basketball, but there are only 11 1/2 scholarships in baseball. Even at the lower ages, my 13-year-old got invited to play on a summer travel team and it costs $2,000. There aren’t many African-Americans who are going to be able to pay that. I don’t want to pay it. I’m not going to pay it.”