On Jackie Robinson Day, we remember the momentous day in 1947 when Robinson broke the color barrier in Major League Baseball, paving the way for future generations of Black players. However, in 2023, the struggle for access to play the game still persists, as highlighted by the story of the PDX Monarchs, a predominantly Black youth baseball team in Portland, Oregon.
In the summer of 2022, Friends of Baseball (FOB) and our Full Count RBI Baseball Academy organized summer skills workouts and skills camp for higher-level players in an effort to grow baseball feeder programs for Portland area schools and provide opportunities for young players to improve their skills. The camp aimed to fill the gap after Little League for players who could not afford to play on an independent team but had the passion and talent for the game.
FOB was approached by Cleatis Goodlow, a community member and longtime advocate for Black baseball in Portland, who brought FOB's attention to the needs of a youth team in the community. This team, made up of 16 Black players in 2023, was facing the possibility of being split up due to boundary restrictions caused by gentrification. In the past, Portland's Little League teams were plentiful in North and Northeast Portland, providing access points for Black players in the neighborhood. However, with the changing demographics of the area, many Black families were displaced, resulting in limited opportunities for Black players to play baseball. To keep this team together, they were encouraged to go independent, but this required support and resources. Gerald Bolden, Director of Baseball Operations at FOB and a longtime member of the local baseball community, shared the team's story and pipeline concerns with key baseball supporters and players in the Northwest.
Bolden said, "When kids get out of little league, there are no places for them to go unless they have $5000 a year to join a club team...This becomes an access issue... we want to work towards creating a pipeline so 12-year-olds who age out of little league and don't have a lot of money can still continue to play the game of baseball or softball."
In December of 2022, Goodlow and Bolden came together to explore ways to provide resources and support to the team. Thanks to the efforts of FOB and other local networks, Friends of Baseball was able to help develop the PDX Monarchs, and this team is now able to go independent and continue playing together, with access to resources for tournaments and equipment.
As an organization that promotes diversity, inclusion, and equality in baseball, Friends of Baseball is dedicated to creating opportunities for underrepresented youth to participate in the game. Director of Baseball Operations Gerald Bolden said, "As being a black person in a predominantly white sport, having coaches in front of kids that look like them is important because, growing up, if I saw someone like myself from the same neighborhood it would motivate me. I think there is a relatability factor when the coach looks like the players and there is more of an outlook of possibility.”
FOB's Full Count RBI programs engage youth ballplayers in baseball/softball, fostering social involvement, providing resources, and teaching valuable skills to enhance their game. According to Executive Director Aaron Dickson, when asked about the benefits of participating in our Full Count RBI Programs/camps he said, "We aim to provide a sense of belonging. Our youth not only learn how to play the game the right way, but they also receive mentorship from our coach mentors who instill important life lessons." By joining our programs and camps, youth gain access to resources such as scholarships and equipment, empowering them to learn and play the game to their fullest potential.
However, the challenges faced by the PDX Monarchs and other marginalized players are not limited to one season or one year. The fight for equal access to play baseball, regardless of race or background, is an ongoing struggle that requires continued support and efforts.
In addition to honoring Jackie Robinson's legacy, Friends of Baseball (FOB) is also organizing a special fundraising campaign on Jackie Robinson Day. The goal is to have each individual donate $42, in honor of Robinson's iconic jersey number, to support FOB's ongoing efforts to provide resources and opportunities for marginalized youth players, including the PDX Monarchs. By donating $42 to FOB, you can help make a difference in the lives of young baseball players who face barriers to access and support. Your contribution will go towards providing equipment, funding tournaments, and supporting baseball programs for underprivileged players in the Portland area. Together, we can continue to carry on Jackie Robinson's legacy by breaking down barriers and creating a more inclusive and diverse baseball community.
Join us in celebrating Jackie Robinson Day by donating $42 to FOB and showing your support for equal access to baseball for all players. Together, we can make a meaningful impact and help more young players, like the PDX Monarchs, continue their baseball journey.
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Friends of Baseball
We believe every child should have the opportunities to swing for the fences on the field and in life.