Baseball is considered America’s favorite pastime. It’s always drawn fans to the ballpark for food, beer and fun. It’s no different for fans going to Miller Park, especially since the Milwaukee Brewers’ latest winning streak has revamped Milwaukee's love for baseball and the team. However, most of the fans filling the seats in Major League Baseball, like the players, are predominantly white.
On opening day 2017, nearly 43 percent of MLB players were of color, according to The Institute for Diversity and Ethics in Sports, or TIDES. While about 35 percent were Latino, Asian or from other diverse backgrounds, only 8 percent of the players were black.
So, if less than 10 percent of all players in the league are black, what does that mean for the sport’s popularity in the black community?
Robert Stokes Sr. has been coaching for Beckum-Stapleton Little League for five years. He says the love of baseball, and the Brewers, is present in the black community in Milwaukee.
Even still, he says the sport is missing something, but he doesn’t think it has anything to do with racial or cultural reasons.
“Baseball actually isn’t broken, I think that it’s just missing a few key elements that they don’t have anymore. Kind of like back in the days you had Ken Griffey Sr., Ken Griffey Jr. You had Cecil Fielder and his son Prince Fielder — Bobby Bonds and Barry Bonds,” Stokes says.
He says that father-son component is one part that has helped kids discover a love for baseball. Stokes played growing up, and his 10-year-old son also plays and loves it as much he does.
Stokes has seen more kids getting involved at Beckum-Stapleton since he’s been coaching, starting with T-ball. Kids start T-ball as young as 4 years old.
He says baseball does need more black players, especially in Milwaukee. He thinks it’s important for there to be role models in the sport for children growing up here, but says there’s another issue, one that hits closer to home:
“I definitely think that baseball in the inner city is lacking parent participation. I deal with a team with 15 kids and I probably have maybe 3 fathers out of the 15 kids that I have on my team that actually come down and try to help out with the kids. And I think that it really needs to start being taught early like basketball and football. They don’t have that in the inner-city schools. None of the kids in the inner-city schools really know too much about baseball because it’s not being taught.”
Jim Brey, Beckum-Stapleton president, agrees, but says the league is working to change that. One initiative is to bring T-ball to Milwaukee Public Schools and Milwaukee area charter schools.
"We’re hoping that we can draw up an interest in it just like these schools have basketball teams. The thing about baseball, it takes a lot more to play," Brey says. "You need a field, you need bats, balls, gloves — there’s a lot to it. We have that available through sponsors. We work with everybody to make sure that all the children that want to play, play.”
Beckum-Stapleton Little League currently takes kids ages 4-15. Both Stokes and Brey say kids can learn vital skills from baseball, as they can with any sport. They just need to step up to the plate.
Support for Race & Ethnicity reporting is provided by the Dohmen Company.
Do you have a question about race in Milwaukee? Submit it below.