15 Apr

thoughts on the day

It was a nice honor for Taylorsville’s Billy Hamilton that he was chosen to appear on the edition of MLB Network’s “Play Ball” that aired today, the 70th anniversary of Jackie Robinson’s historic debut in the big leagues. The number of African-American players on MLB rosters has dwindled in recent years and, according to a USA Today report, is at its lowest percentage (7.1) since 1958. There are a variety of factors at play in this development, one of which is just simple opportunity. Hamilton’s backstory, which he talks about in the “Play Ball” segment, is inspirational in this regard. He talks about starting out on a sandlot behind a church playing with a stick and a tennis ball. He credits a man named Jim Ford, still a mentor in Hamilton’s life, for providing him and his friends with some actual baseball equipment and a team to play on. Hamilton played football and basketball coming up but says baseball became his favorite sport. Drafted by Cincinnati in 2009 out of Taylorsville High, Hamilton passed on a football scholarship to Mississippi State to tackle pro baseball, where his speed is becoming the stuff of legend. Now the Reds’ center fielder and frequent leadoff batter, Hamilton said on the “Play Ball’’ segment that he wants to teach the game to kids when he’s through playing. … It was unfortunate that other than a pop-up graphic that appeared briefly on the screen, it wasn’t mentioned in the “Play Ball” segment that Hamilton is from Mississippi. … A recent Sports Illustrated report noted that there are only five black catchers in all of the minor leagues. One of those is Chuckie Robinson, the former Southern Miss star now in his second pro season in the Houston system. Robinson, whose dad played pro ball, was a 21st-round draft pick in 2016 and is currently playing at Quad Cities in the Class A Midwest League. … “He did far more for me than I did for him.” The celebration each year of Jackie Robinson’s debut always brings to mind that comment made by Red Barber, the Columbus native who was the Brooklyn Dodgers radio voice in 1947 when Robinson broke in. Barber, a son of the segregated South who had considered quitting rather than cover a team with a black player, ultimately came to grips with his prejudices and learned to accept and appreciate Robinson “as a man, as a ballplayer.” If you’ve never read Robert Creamer’s “Rhubarb in the Catbird Seat,” a Barber biography, you should.

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