Little League and Ferguson, MO
The U.S. regional qualifiers pulled me in, and as my kids’ former Little League coach over the years, I had to admit I like watching it. No baggage of professional players’ attitudes or team name controversies, no issues of college sports professional unionization; just a bunch of kids of all colors and nationalities giving it all for baseball. Then Ferguson happened, and the media feeding frenzy, the politicization of race, and the all too ‘real world’ knocked me out of my escapism. I even started having thoughts about whether I would be intimidated by a great 13-year-old pitcher because she was a girl without any thought of what color she was.
I am a boomer, a Navy brat whose Dad was a WW2, Korea, and Vietnam vet, and my experience of race and politics started early. My Dad was transferred between Pearl Harbor and San Diego most often, so the military exposure of Life on the Rock, a forced melting pot in those days introduced me to the human rainbow as we all went to school and played together; Catholic school blended us even further with a universal message. San Diego started my Little League experience with less rainbow colors, but good friends with Mexican surnames as school and team mates. Mississippi in 1965 was an anomaly -- a split school year had me in public school and I was in the Deep South. As a Yankee from California, I played marbles with the only two African-American students in the entire ‘integrated’ school and was duly warned not to play with them. I continued playing and was ostracized by the locals. I was confused by that type of attitude, but seeing a few cross burnings did give me something to remember when I came of age. My plea to my Mom as I came home crying on day one was “send me to the Catholic school, I don’t know what their problem is, I can’t understand my teacher’s accent, and everyone laughs when I stand up to answer questions.” Not a good half year, but the follow-on ship transfer to Charleston, SC was supposed to be better because it was a bigger urban area, a bigger navy base, and a more cosmopolitan area. All was true and baseball season was coming.
They didn’t have Little League, but something called Dixie Youth League which I don’t know if my parents knew anything about, but my parents knew I needed baseball to heal the Mississippi wounds. School was fine, a rainbow of students mostly military and a teacher I could understand and baseball tryouts were coming. I wasn’t bad, never a hitter; but could accurately field and pitch to a target which served me well at least until batters got my timing down. I never understood why there weren’t any black kids on my team or in the whole league because I had black classmates in school, but at the time it was baseball and made my year in the south bearable at least. I later discovered the history of the Dixie Youth League as starting due to white backlash when official Little League integrated in 1956.
My understanding today is that there has been significant progress since those beginnings which I have seen through my boomer years while in college, the Peace Corps in Africa, and the Navy in the Pacific. I know things are better and I know Americans are not cowards in regards to race which makes Ferguson such a regression. Outside actors including looters, media, race personalities, and the federal government have literally not allowed the smoke to clear before taking sides and making politics. Obviously, there is domestic dissatisfaction and probably legitimate complaints causing true resentment which has festered over time and will require casualty relief and confidence building measures which is yet to come from much needed calmer minds on any side. Ferguson is being called the Gaza of the Midwest; the biggest parallel I see is the role of media in sensationalizing and exploiting the violent terrorism aspect that Maggie Thatcher explained as terrorism being oxygen to media; it scares people into changing political systems without time to investigate and mitigate violent criminal and political events. Unfortunately, our federal system isn’t acting in a federal manner; cowardice itself when not allowing the system time to work.
I might actually make the two-hour drive and watch the end of the Little League World Series, Ferguson will be around for some time.