Blaser: Between first and 42, there’s greatness

Members of the Jackie Robinson West Little League team from Chicago, Ill., ride in the Little League Grand Slam Parade as it makes its way through downtown Williamsport, Pa., Wednesday, Aug. 13, 2014. The Little League World Series tournament begins Thursday, August 14, in South Williamsport, Pa..  (AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar)
Members of the Jackie Robinson West Little League team from Chicago, Ill., ride in the Little League Grand Slam Parade as it makes its way through downtown Williamsport, Pa., Wednesday, Aug. 13, 2014. The Little League World Series tournament begins Thursday, August 14, in South Williamsport, Pa.. (AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar)

Like every Chicago area baseball fan, I finally found a baseball team to care about.

You know the team – the 13 kids from Morgan Park on Chicago’s far South Side. In the Little League World Series parlance, they are known as Jackie Robinson West, and they won the U.S. Little League championship game.

The team has been an inspiration and has won a place in Chicago’s pantheon of baseball greatness, despite their Sunday loss to South Korea. These kids played really good baseball and have tremendous heart.

But that’s not the only reason why they matter.

For the past few summers, the news about young black people in our great city has been heartbreaking. We all know the grim news reports, falling like relentless hammer blows, each for another child gunned down on the city streets.

Jackie Robinson West doesn’t really change that maddening news of what’s going on in the streets, but perhaps their story can open our eyes to another facet of life, what some folks refer to as “the inner city.”

As I’ve written before, I despise that term because it is white code for black, crime-ridden and poor neighborhoods.

Jackie Robinson didn’t reach Ebbets Field on luck or a favor. And neither did these kids reach the field of dreams, at Williamsport, Pa., on luck.

They got there through talent, hard work, great coaching and great community support. Any community, anywhere in America, would be proud to have those gifts to give to their kids. That’s what we all want out from the communities we call home.

They obviously have it in Chicago’s Morgan Park neighborhood. To play the kind of baseball these kids play takes practice day in and day out. It takes coaching and instruction from dedicated adults who not only know baseball, but also know how to teach it to kids. It takes discipline, the kind of discipline you need to field 100 grounders every day all summer, then take 100 swings in the batting cage, and then do relentless, mind-numbing throwing drills.

It takes a community of caring adults to organize the teams, coach the kids, raise the money to order the uniforms and the equipment and to take care of the fields. If you’ve been involved in youth baseball, you know what I’m talking about.

Sadly, the team’s achievement won’t change the awful crime statistics in the city; neither will it change our feeling good about the team.

Jackie Robinson West reminds us of what’s possible when caring adults work together to support, help and teach kids how to be at their best no matter where they are from – regardless of race. Their story can serve to shatter the lies, misconceptions and false notions that pop into our heads when we hear the words “inner city.”

Rachel Robinson, Jackie’s widow, wrote the team a note and included these words: “Thank you for upholding the legacy of my husband Jack, your namesake, through your hard work, dedication and excellent teamwork.”

Jack’s legacy.

Now that’s something we can all aspire to.

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