As Black players in professional baseball have dwindled down to a mere eight percent of the Major Leagues, it’s encouraging to see a team like Jackie Robinson West out of Chicago make it to the Little League World Series. An all-Black team making the tournament was not as big of a deal in 1983 – the last time Jackie Robinson West went that far– as it is today. In the 1970s, Black players in the Major Leagues numbered as high as 30 percent. Today, everyone including Major League Baseball itself, recognizes the dwindling participation of Black youth playing the game as a problem.
While many organizations, including Major League Baseball have done much to encourage inner-city kids to play organized baseball, we've yet to see much of an impact from these efforts. This makes the success of Jackie Robinson West that much more special. Based on the South Side in the predominantly Black, middle-class Washington Heights neighborhood, the team does not fit the narrative of a poverty-stricken, violence-ridden Chicago that so often dominates national headlines. The team has thrived thanks largely to the parents and other community members who are willing and able to commit to making a youth baseball league survive. As a result they have now won two Illinois State Championships in a row. Last year they came one game short of making the Tournament.
In the game that clinched their 2014 Little League World Series appearance, Cameron Bufford’s fifth inning grand slam put the team from the Southside ahead for good as they came back from five runs down to defeat Indiana’s New Albany Little League, 12-7, in the Great Lakes Region Final game. Josh Castleman had an RBI triple in the fourth and scored three runs. Marquis Jackson, considered the best pitcher on the team, came in to finish the game and allowed just one hit, one run and struck out seven in his 2 2/3 innings.
Jackie Robinson West, known as Illinois in the tournament, plays their first World Series game vs. Washington at 2 pm on Thursday, August 14th on ESPN.