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Archive for Sunday, April 15, 2007

Robinson-inspired clinic targets black youth

April 15, 2007

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Brooklyn Dodgers' Jackie Robinson, right, steals home plate after Boston Braves catcher Bill Salkeld is thrown off-balance Aug. 22, 1948, at Ebbets Field in New York.

Brooklyn Dodgers' Jackie Robinson, right, steals home plate after Boston Braves catcher Bill Salkeld is thrown off-balance Aug. 22, 1948, at Ebbets Field in New York.

— Honoring Jackie Robinson involves more than selected major-league players wearing 42, his number with the Brooklyn Dodgers.

It includes reinvigorating interest in baseball among black youth, as one inner-city clinic sought to do Saturday.

About 250 children aged 8-14 practiced various skills under the guidance of current and former major leaguers in a clinic at the Urban Youth Academy at Compton College.

The clinic was part of Major League Baseball's commemoration of the 60th anniversary of Robinson's debut. He was the first black player to break the informal racial barrier that dominated the major leagues for nearly 70 years.

Among the participants at the clinic were Hall of Famers Frank Robinson and Don Newcombe, who talked to the children about the sport's history and fundamentals.

Frank Robinson, now a special consultant to MLB, said that the declining interest in baseball among black youth is a complex problem.

"No one knows why because there's not one answer," Frank Robinson said. "There's not going to be one answer to turning it around and getting the train to go the other way.

"But if we will focus on it, talk to people, get out into the community and really try to get these kids back, I think we can get them back."

Children at the camp practiced base-running with Los Angeles Dodgers outfielder Juan Pierre, infield play with Dodgers infielder Marlon Anderson, batting with former Dodger Ken Landreaux, outfield play with former Dodger Lou Johnson and throwing with another ex-Dodger, Rudy Law.

"Growing up in Louisiana, I'd never been in this close contact with a professional athlete," said Pierre, who taught children how to take leads and read pitchers. "To get these kids excited about baseball again is huge."

The Urban Youth Academy, which Major League Baseball opened last May, is part of that strategy.

The academy offers free baseball and softball instruction, as well as vocational and academic counseling, on a 10-acre complex that includes four fields, a locker room, a weight room and a clubhouse.

Several high schools and scout teams use the fields, as does Compton College and the Reviving Baseball in Inner Cities (RBI) program. The main field includes grandstand seating and an electronic scoreboard.

Darrell Miller, a former major leaguer and scout who serves as the academy's director, said it already has made an impact.

"We're seeing a remarkable change in the L.A. area," Miller said. "We're getting a lot of kids who are really good athletes that are playing other sports and are now really interested in playing baseball."

Though Miller realizes that changing both individual lives and baseball is a gradual process, he's optimistic.

"The true dividends that we're going to see probably won't be realized for six, seven years," Miller said. "But I think we're getting some real solid traction. The kids feel like they have a chance and that someone is going to help them."

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