Teaching a new generation
Woodbridge Eagles: Bringing baseball to a new generation of youth
By Harry M. Anderson, Jr.
Special to the Michigan Citizen
Baseball in the city of Detroit, as in other major cities, is on the decline for Black youth. Michael Wilson, program director of the Woodbridge Community Youth Center, has produced some facts to back up that claim:
– In junior college and NCAA college baseball, only 4.3 percent of players are African American — only 1.1 percent at the Division I level.
– At historical Black colleges, only 41 percent of the players are Black; the rest are Mexican Americans, Puerto Ricans or white.
“They’re giving scholarships to those races of kids because they can’t find any Black baseball players,” Wilson said.
Basketball and football have taken over Black athletes in Detroit and other major cities.
“When it comes to football and basketball at all levels of college athletics, you see the Black athletes,” Wilson said. “Some teams (are) all or predominately Black.
“In 1959 when Eisenhower was in the White House, 27 percent of Major League Baseball was made up of African Americans. Now with Obama in the White House, African Americans only make up seven percent of MLB players. In last MLB draft, only four African Americans were drafted in the first round … Jackie Robinson must be rolling in his grave,” he added.
These figures are the reason why Wilson started up the Woodbridge Eagles Youth Baseball Team, which is in its second season. The squad is comprised of 16 to 21 players between the ages of eight and 10 from the Woodbridge and surrounding Midtown area. The Eagles are members of Think Detroit PAL and League Michigan.
The team not only plays in the city but also against teams from Trenton, Monroe, Woodhaven and Dearborn Heights. The Eagles have also travelled to games and tournaments in Battle Creek, Flint and the upstate area.
The Eagles play their games on a field located on John C. Lodge Service Drive, maintained by the Woodbridge Community Youth Center, which has drawn praise from the community, high school coaches and visiting teams.
“My goal is to elevate African Americans in baseball,” Wilson said. “My dad played in the Negro Leagues, and I coached at Mackenzie High School for three years. I want to see our kids get college scholarships to play baseball.”
The current crop of players have not only taken to the game but are also enjoying it.
“I like (baseball) because I like to hit the ball,” said Kyle Fitzgerald, 9, a student at Great Oaks Academy. “I like to be coached and learn to play different positions on the field. I like to help my team win a championship.”
“It’s one of the sports with the most fun,” said Gregory Pace, 8, a student at the Detroit Edison Public School Academy. “I (would) like to be a coach when I grow up.”
“My mission is the 20/20 principle,” Wilson said. “The goal is that 75-80 percent that go through our program by the year 2020 will advance to high school and college baseball.
“The big picture is to produce better citizens through baseball and softball. I want the kids to use (these sports) to get scholarships to pay for their education and help the parents to save their money.”
Wilson’s next goal is to expand the Eagles to the 12 and under level next season.