Wednesday, July 30, 2008

"Young, Gifted And Black": Price profiled in Sports Illustrated

Do yourself a favor and buy a copy of this week's Sports Illustrated, if you're not a subscriber already. Lee Jenkins, who happens to be a Vanderbilt alum, has a terrific feature on David Price, the No. 1 pick in the 2007 MLB Draft, that you can read online here.

To give you an idea about the article, titled "Young, Gifted AND Black," here's the subhead:
The Best Story in Baseball gets better: Phenom David Price is closing in on the majors, which will not only give the remarkable Rays a stretch-drive lift but also help a city—and a sport—reconnect with its African-American heritage.

A few interesting tidbits from the story:

* After getting shelled in an intrasquad scrimmage in January of his freshman year, Price made a decision: drop out of school, quit baseball and work at McDonald's. "It was definitely kind of out there," Corbin said, "but I couldn't laugh because he was so serious." Good thing Corbin talked him out of it.

* Wrote Jenkins: "Today Price is the best African-American pitching prospect since Dwight Gooden."

* In 2007, only 8.2 percent of MLB players were black, the lowest total in more than two decades. In 1975, the number was 27 percent, an all-time high.

* How do you get more inner-city kids interested in baseball? By having visible role models like Price, along with the likes of Carl Crawford and B.J. Upton, who show that not only that baseball is cool, but that you can have a future in it.

"I hear a lot about how African-American kids don't play baseball anymore," said Hillsborough coach Kenny White. "But in Tampa they are still playing. I think kids here look at all the African-American players who have come out of this city—and now all the African-American players who are being taken by the Rays—and they see that it's still attainable, that baseball is still an option."

The bottom line, as Crawford points out, is that young kids often need to see players that "look like them" to become interested. Crawford grew up in Houston and said he didn't recall the Astros have any black players besides Derek Bell.

"I didn't really mind because I loved the Astros no matter what. But a lot of my friends, who were really good players, would complain," he said. "They would be like, 'Why should I care about that team? Why should I care about baseball?' And they stopped playing. It matters where you live. You have to be able to turn on the TV and see players who look like you."

* The article mentions Vanderbilt's partnership with Nashville RBI, which Price and Corbin spearheaded in the spring. I wrote an article about the partnership for VU Commodores that you can read here.

* Price has continued a postgame tradition that he started at Vandy. "After his team wins a game that he started," Jenkins writes, "he stands outside the clubhouse, congratulating everyone on their way inside, making sure to enter last."

* In the sidebar, which can't be read online, Baseball Prospectus' Joe Sheehan writes that Price will probably be called up as a reliever, filling the same role that Joba Chamberlain had with the Yankees last season.

* Added Sheehan: "Price has major-league-ready pitches that include a mid-90s fastball and a big, biting slider. He also has superior command, having struck out 68 wand walked just 19 in 71.2 innings through Sunday. As Chamberlain did, Price would most likely work off his two best pitches as a reliever, largely putting his above-average changeup away until next season...For the Rays, adding Price to their bullpen mix would be like a great trade-deadline pickup."

UPDATE: If you need another reason to buy the issue, two former Commodores are highlighted in the football preview. Jay Cutler, the 12th-ranked quarterback, is listed as a "sleeper," with SI writing, "after being diagnosed with and treated for Type I diabetes in the off-season, he has regained much of his stamina and arm strength." Meanwhile, Earl Bennett is listed as an "impact rookie," with SI noting that "the SEC's all-time leader in catches, at Vanderbilt, should rise quickly on Chicago's thin depth chart."

Photo [tampabay.com]

8 comments:

newyorkdore said...

What I love about this article is that I've been harping to my brother (who finds me following Vandy baseball religiously ridiculous) about DP being the great black hope for baseball for some time now. Finally... evidence.

I'm still just trying to figure out how much I'm going to have to pay for tickets to the early September series at the Stadium when TB comes to town. That, and where I can get a real Vandy baseball jersey rather than the piece of c**p they sell at the bookstore website.

Aram Hanessian said...

That % of african americans is wrong, it has widely been reported at 28%, but the actual figure is that it peaked at 20% in 1975. The guy who does the research is Mark Armour, Neyer quoted him in a blog entry last friday.

Jarred Amato said...

The great thing about Price is that, unlike other professional athletes, he doesn't shy away from being a role model. He understands the impact that he can have on today's youth, both black and white, and embraces it.

There's a reason that Corbin calls Price his favorite player he's ever coached, and it has nothing to do with his mid-90s fastball or killer slider.

Baseball could use more guys like DP, and I'm glad to see him getting national recognition. Pretty soon the whole world is going to know about him.

And thanks Aram, I'll change that.

marc levit said...

SI also gave shout-outs to Jay and Earl in the same issue. What a trifecta.

Jarred Amato said...

Marc, I saw that too. Check out the update on the post. Pretty cool stuff.

Tony Arnold said...

. . . but also help a city—and a sport—reconnect with its African-American heritage. How do you get more inner-city kids interested in baseball? By having visible role models like Price . . .

I would challenge that the primary problem in getting African-American and inner-city youth re-interested in baseball is not the need for better roll models (although it is helpful), but the accessibility of Little League baseball for this demographic.

This was touched on in Sports VU post several months ago. It seems in the US, youth baseball is now primarily through expensive travel leagues and serious, suburban little leagues rather than city and community sponsered little leagues that promote exposure to the fundamentals and to the joy of baseball.

It is becoming an issue for white, suburban parents like myself who want their children to have access to little leagues sports without the seriousness and cost that used to come later in their life at a higher level of organized sports. Until you get to high school, sports for children should focus on learning to play the game properly, and on enjoying competition and sport--not on prestige, the best equipment and facilities, personal instruction, etc.

If white middle class suburban parents are facing this problem, how in the world are urban, low-income families finding productive outlets for their kids?

Even inner-cities in decades past saw kids organize their own sandlot baseball games. Drive around in city areas today and you won't see this anymore.

Just maybe if our cities invested a little more money in youth sports for urban dwellers, they could save a ton on teen crime costs and drug rehab costs for teens.

Jarred Amato said...

Tony, you're right on. We've talked about this a bunch here on the site, but it's definitely worth repeating. As you mentioned, it comes down to access. It's a lot easier for kids from lower-class (and now even middle-class, as you point out) families to play sports like basketball and football, where the costs are much smaller.

I remember Greg posted an article a while back that raised the question: Is baseball becoming a country-club sport?

However, there is another element here. You can't deny that baseball can be boring so regardless of race or class, kids are being drawn to other sports like football, b-ball and now even lacrosse.

So how do you make baseball seem cool, especially for kids in the inner-city? By having guys like David Price. Major League Baseball is committed to making the game more accessible to everyone through programs like RBI, but without visible role models like Price, it's still going to be hard to get our youth interested in the game.

Tony Arnold said...

Jarred, I had not thought about the so-called boring aspect. I like baseball because of the different pace. The issue may not be that baseball is boring, but that in the youth environment of today: soundbites, phone-texting, IMing, video-games, high-scoring induced rules for sports, instant gratification, etc. ... the precision and patient of baseball is not attractive.