For years, many inner-city youngsters have had to wait until summer to live out their major-league baseball fantasies. But for a privileged group of Baltimore fourth- and fifth-graders, the summer game is getting an early start.
Beginning April 25, the Baltimore Baseball League will begin a nine-week season with play at recreation centers throughout the city. But instead of wearing uniforms bearing names of the Orioles, Mets or other major-league teams, participants will represent 24 elementary schools in Baltimore in a program is designed to serve as a model for other cities.
Among the heavy hitters backing the league are The Abell Foundation, the Baltimore Orioles, The Junior League of Baltimore, the baseball commissioner, the Baltimore Department of Education, the Department of Recreation and Parks and The Parks & People Foundation. The co-sponsors will provide equipment and uniforms. "There's not much difference than the Little League," said Harriette McPherson, executive director of The Parks & People Foundation. "The exception is that it's in the schools, and the kids have to do well in the schools in order to play."
Besides motivating students to achieve athletically and scholastically (eligibility is based on attendance, academic effort and citizenship), the program, it is hoped, will generate interest in major-league baseball among inner-city residents. Recent studies have shown a decrease in the number of blacks attending major-league games.
"The commissioner's office became interested because it believes baseball belongs in the city, and that not a lot of the talent was being developed," McPherson said. "Also, the foundation did a study several years ago and found that kids were not receiving a lot of physical education in school. It was the objective to come up with something that would provide education and recreation for the children."
Each of the 24 participating schools will have 20 members chosen from eligible students through a lottery. Teams began forming about a month ago. Play will go through the playoffs June 27.