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June 22, 2014

African-American baseball players dwindle in prep ranks

NORMAN — Antoine Lester Sr. grew up playing baseball. From the age of 9 until his stint with the Little Rock Braves, the Arkansas native had a bat and ball in his hands.

Back then, Lester said the game was full of great African-American athletes. More than two decades later, he looks around the landscape and sees the numbers dwindling down more and more. During last weeks Heartland Classic, he counted four total black players in seven teams from around the country. That included his son, Antoine Lester II.

“When I was coming up playing, that’s all that played the game,” Lester Sr. said. “Now it’s few and far now. It does disappoint me because I know there are more out here that love the game than that’s playing the game. I hate it. We can play the game. I just wish there were more African-Americans playing the game.”

The lack off black players in baseball has been an issue in the professional ranks for several years. According to the league, only 8.3 percent of players on 2014 opening day rosters identified themselves as African-American or black.

But according to some players, that is not the case in youth baseball where they believe black players are making a resurgence.

“I see it more and more every year,” Team Arkansas’ Danny Mitchell said. “I’m loving it. It’s good to see a brother playing baseball because you used to never see them. Most of the time they are good. So I’m glad to see them coming into it more and more.”

However, once kids get to the high school ranks, they start picking which sports they want to focus on. At that time, baseball starts to take a backseat to football and basketball.

“I have a friend who plays football,” Lester Jr. said. “He said the reason he doesn’t like to play baseball is because you can’t go pro. They always think about going pro, then think about education. I think more blacks is good. It would show we can do the same thing as others.”

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