By James Wright, Special to the AFRO, [email protected]
It would appear that Major League Baseball scored a home-run with District of Columbia residents and visitors during All-Star Fanfest, one of the many activities part of All-Star Week (July 13-17).
All-Star Week took place at various venues throughout the District, with the three most prominent in the Walter E. Washington Convention Center in downtown, the Play Ball Park near the Nationals Stadium in Southwest, and the stadium itself.
The GEICO All-Star Fanfest took place at the convention center. Thousands of people visited scores of booths and exhibits dedicated to the game of baseball.
People wore jerseys of their favorite teams as they participated in interactive baseball plays such as catching, pitching, and hitting. Others listened to lectures on the sport such as the past and future of baseball and the role that women play in the sport.
There were many African Americans at Fanfest even though statistics in recent years show Black interest in the sport is declining. A 2016 study by the Institute for Diversity and Ethics in Sports found that 8.3 percent of all MLB players are Black, with the all-time high of 19 percent in 1975.
However, Black’s low participation in the game didn’t dissuade Carlton Johnson of Philadelphia from coming to the District for All-Star Week with his family. “My son, Christopher, plays baseball and is playing in a tournament for college students in the game,” Johnson told the AFRO. “I am also here at Fanfest to sight-see and I am impressed with what I see.”
The Negro League exhibit had mainly black and white photos of some of the marquee players and teams of that league. There were even some former Negro League players who signed autographs.
Two of the Negro League players were Jim Robinson, who eventually played for the MLB’s St. Louis Cardinals, and Pedro Sierra, who was a prominent player for the Indianapolis Clowns and despite his talent, never got permanently on a MLB team’s roster.
“I am proud to escort Jim Robinson and Pedro Sierra to this event,” Dr. Paul Hopkins, the son of Gordon “Hoppy” Hopkins, who played for the Indianapolis Clowns with Sierra, told the AFRO. Hopkins said Blacks have a rich history in baseball, despite the popularity of football and basketball within the race.
“Black people like baseball,” he said. “Our young people should consider the sport because they can get a college scholarship playing the game easier than football and basketball and if they go to the majors, can make a lot of money for a long time playing baseball. You can play professional baseball for 20 years and that’s not the case in football.”
While the MLB enjoyed the spurt in popularity during the All-Star Week, there was some mild discontent. The Washington area has several former baseball players but MLB didn’t reach out to them for the All-Star Week.
“I haven’t heard anything regarding the All-Star Week activities or the All-Star Game,” Fred Valentine, who played for the Baltimore Orioles and the former Washington Senators, told the AFRO. “None of the Washington [Senators] ball players were asked to sign autographs. The league offices in New York are coordinating all of this and they haven’t requested us to do anything for the events.”