(Florida International University) – MIAMI — Baseball may be the national pastime, but you wouldn't know it at Miami Edison Senior High School and other predominantly black high schools in Miami where football and basketball reign.
Schools such as Edison, Northwestern Senior High School and Miami Central Senior High School traditionally field competitive, even champion, teams.
But baseball? Softball? Not so much.
Taj Echoles, athletic director at Edison, wants to change that.
“Approximately ten years ago the school had a baseball and a softball team” he says. “Right now we’re exploring an independent schedule or an intramural team, specifically for softball starting next year.”
Edison no longer has an on-campus baseball diamond, but there's a field in a nearby park.
A WINNING HISTORY
The sport wasn't always local schools’ athletic stepchild.
Ronnie Belliard, Central class of ’94, played for the Milwaukee Brewers, the Cleveland Indians, the Washington Nationals, the Colorado Rockies and the LA Dodgers in a career that ended only two years ago.
1990 Edison grad Midre Cummings was a first-round draft pick by the Minnesota Twins that year, and went on to play for the Pittsburgh Pirates and Philadelphia Phillies among other major league teams.
In addition, Mickey Rivers, a 1967 Northwestern graduate, played two world championship seasons with the New York Yankees, also spending time with the Texas Rangers and the Los Angeles Angels.
In the first part of the 20th century, baseball was the sport in the black community, according to University of Nebraska researchers Michael L. Hilt and David C. Ogden. That changed, they say, as the number of black baseball players declined and the number playing other sports increased,
especially as basketball became more popular.
Edison’s Echoles wants to buck the trend.
Before coming to Edison, Echoles was the head baseball coach at Miami Northwestern. He said he knows he can build a team because the talent is out there.
“We have a small population of students who have participated in softball or baseball at some level, whether it’s the Little League level, intramural level, or just the basic stick ball in the neighborhood,” said Echoles.
But he acknowledges the stumbling blocks that hurt baseball in less well-off communities.
“With baseball there’s a cost factor involved,” said Echoles.” It’s a bit of a burden to have to go out and buy new baseball cleats, or a new bat, or a new glove.”
Edison sophomore Franklin Labady says when he was younger, he played summer baseball at the Belafonte Tacolcy Center. Labady now plays football and basketball, but he thinks that baseball could make a comeback at Edison.
“Baseball brings people together,” Labady says. “The sport itself is fun and exciting and there are a good handful of students here who want to play. If the school pushes it they could have a lot of players.”
Northwestern and Miami Central field both baseball and softball teams.
This year Central's baseball team went 1-10 and its softball team went 3-13. Northwestern's baseball team went 2-6, but its softball team was 12-4 and went to the district final.
“For the last nine years we’ve been in the district playoffs,” says Samuel Spence Jr., head softball coach at Northwestern. “We won it in ’08 and went to the region.”
Northwestern lost this year's regional final to Mater Academy.
Despite the loss, the team has shown the sport can be successful in Liberty City. Spence thinks style might be part of the blame.
“They’re still doing slow pitch. They’re not teaching fast pitch,” he says. “High school is fast pitch.”
Contact Darren Collette at email@example.com