By Chris Murray
COURTESY OF THE GRIO.COM
ABOVE PHOTO: Skylar Glover. (Photo courtesy of his mother Sarah J. Glover)
Over the last 10 years, much has been written about the declining numbers of African-Americans playing Major League Baseball and collegiate baseball.
African-Americans make up just 9 percent of all of those playing Major League Baseball this year, a far cry from the 27 percent in 1974. The 2010 College World Series featured eight African-American players out of the 269 who participated.
When it comes to African-American players, the future looks no brighter. For example, the U.S. semifinals of the 2010 Little League World Series between Georgia and Hawaii featured only two African-American players, both of whom played for the team from Columbus, Ga.
Although there are programs like Reviving Baseball in Inner Cities and other initiatives designed to reintroduce the sport to African-American, a combination of poorly kept urban baseball fields, the expense of the game, and the popularity of basketball and football are among the reasons why baseball might not be catching on in places like Philadelphia, despite having two MLB MVPs in Phillies Ryan Howard and Jimmy Rollins in place as potential role models.
But some are pointing to the single parent household as one of the major factors keeping African-American boys away from baseball. According to data compiled by the U.S. Census Bureau, nearly one out of three black households (29 percent) are headed by single mothers, many of whom can’t afford to take their kids to baseball games played in the ultra modern and grossly expensive ball parks. Traditionally, baseball has been a sport that boys learn from their fathers.
Or at least that’s the conventional wisdom. In reality, single moms are grabbing their sons and saying “Take me out to the Ballgame!”, fighting economic, racial and gender barriers at times to keep their kids in the game.
Cheryl A. Mobley-Stimpson, who runs the Facebook site Philly Sports Moms and works as a sports and entertainment consultant and Sarah J. Glover, an award-winning photojournalist with the Philadelphia Daily News, have boys who not only play baseball, but are good at it and have a passion for it. Both have invested the time, money and effort to help their sons in their course of their baseball development on their own without assistance from their children’s fathers.
“I am the exception to the rule and if I can be an exception to the rule, it can happen,” said Mobley-Stimpson, who started her own business as a way to devote more time . “It’s a matter of vision, it’s a matter of dedication and it’s a matter of adapting to a different type of a lifestyle and so I can’t get to all of the parties that I used to get to and when I do get to that small window of opportunity, I am so tired from driving and driving to practices and playoff games.”
Mobley-Stimpson has two sons–Leon and Cameron—who have been involved in baseball since starting T-Ball at 6-years-old. Her oldest son, Leon, 20, won a college scholarship to the University of North Carolina-Ashville and has since transferred to Div. III Alvernia University in Reading, Pa. Her youngest son Cameron, 17, is playing high school baseball at Friends Central in Wynnewood.
According to Mobley-Stimpson, her oldest son Leon has been on the radar of teams like the Phillies and the New York Mets.
Meanwhile, Glover’s son Skylar is 13 and has played the sport since he was seven. He completed his summer youth baseball season with the Tri-State Elite Baseball League based in Sewell, N.J.
Both Glover and Mobley-Stimpson have managed to successfully navigate their way through what is a mostly white-male world of youth baseball. But that journey has not come without its economic and political challenges along the way. Both believe that gender is more of an issue than race because the sport has been traditionallly shared between fathers and sons.
“From a gender perspective, I feel I’m not receiving the same type of respect as a father that’s coming to the field,” Glover said. “But you have to develop a thick skin in general and it’s related to life in general because it’s how you react to situations where people throw up obstacles. I’m not going to let some 20-something coach tell me that my son is lazy and I’m not going to let that define my child.”
In Mobley-Stimpson’s situation, her two sons have played in recreational leagues throughout Philadelphia in which they have been one of a few Black kids playing baseball in a given league. She said the problems have been about getting her sons the opportunity to play while breaking through what is an “old boys” network where there have been several generations of kids playing in one league.
“All of these situations have their own dynamics attached to them,” Mobley-Stimpson said. “The kids who were playing with my kids might have been the second generation to play in that league or potentially even the third and so you have all of those relationships in place and so of course there are only so many positions in baseball, everybody can’t be on the field at the same time and so the coaches have to make decisions of who’s going to be on the field? Based on what, that is the question. It’s not always talent.”
Mobley-Stimpson said she had to pull her oldest son out of one league when she felt they weren’t giving him the opportunity to play and the coach was verbally abusing her son.
For the most part, Glover said her son’s experience throughout the various stages of his youth baseball experiences has been positive and Skylar has consistently been one of the best players on his teams while being one of a few African-Americans playing the game. She said because he has played so well, he doesn’t always get the praise for his efforts.
“He’ll hit a double and he doesn’t get that same praise that some of the other kids get and it’s not 100 percent all of the time, but it rears itself enough that I have taken notice of it,” Glover said.
The cost for putting a young boy through all the stages of Little League and travel league can run in the thousands of dollars per year for equipment, league fees, travel and additional coaching. Glover said she wound up spending somewhere close to $5,000 per year and expects it to get even more expensive. For example, a pair of baseball gloves she purchased for Skylar cost up to $600.00.
“If you don’t have the income to purchase the necessary equipment, let alone pay the fees to participate, add in the cost of traveling to these tournaments, you’re not in a position to participate,” Glover said. “Looking at all of the economics of participation, I can see how that can be a deterring factor in people not pursuing (baseball) with their children. It is a huge sacrifice. When you have a one-income household, you have to make sacrifices.”
Glover, who is also the president of the Philadelphia Association of Black Journalists, said such things as regular visits to the beauty salon or even having enough time for a social life has become a luxury considering her job and the time she spends with her son.
“I have to figure out a way to make it work so that I can go to work, handle my professional responsibilities, giving my son the full attention as far as school work and raising him in general,” Glover said. “I think more parents want to do the best for their kids regardless of what their income is or where they are economically, but it is a struggle.”
According to RawlingsGear.com, baseball gloves can range in price anywhere from about 12.99 up to about $400.00. Bats, both wooden and aluminum can range from about $20.00 to well over $100.00. Add in the cost of batting gloves and other pieces of equipment such as spikes, the overall costs can run into the thousands of dollars.
Mobley-Stimpson said she has gone as far as enrolling her both her boys into the IMG Academy in Bradenton, Fla.–which is like a boarding school for sports like tennis, basketball and baseball–so they can get more intense instruction. The tuition for those academies are around the $10,000 to $20,000 range even with financial aid. She said she is willing to go the extra mile to get her sons the right kind of coaching.
“You’ve got to do that individual coaching,” Mobley-Stimpson said. “If you don’t spend the money to get one-on-one or in a small group. You run the risk of having bad habits.”
Additionally, Mobley-Stimpson’s sons attended private school once they reached high school age. She felt it was necessary to put them in the best competitive and instructional situation.
Glover said while the dream of major league baseball is a lofty goal, she said the most important thing for Skylar is that he is in the best situation to get an education whether he ultimately plays the sport professionally or not.
“That’s not my focus for my son,” Glover said. “My focus is for him is to hopefully get an academic scholarship for college. Education is the primary focus and that’s something that I’ve instilled in my son from day one. The primary focus is not going I’m going to be an MLB ball player and try to get drafted out of high school.”
Mobley-Stimpson said she wants to ultimately help other single mothers who have kids who are gifted in sports like baseball or tennis so that they won’t go through all the struggles that she had to go through trying to help her sons play baseball.
“Not only do I think it’s possible, but I want to do everything I can to help as many people as possible to share the knowledge,” Mobley-Stimpson said. “It shouldn’t be that hard. It’s about asking questions and being able to make the adjustments. It was a major sacrifice. Parents have to ask themselves to what extent are you willing to go to get your children the best opportunity to be successful.”