Emanuel and Claypool help gangs' summer building plans by cutting public baseball coaching, field maintenance, and teams in the parks and through the schools!... Hypocrisy begins with 'austerity' proclamations and continues with cheap publicity stunts rather than sustained programs for kids...

Is there a direct relationship between the politics of austerity as practiced by both the right wing Democrats (like Forrest Claypool and Rahm Emanuel and Hillary Clinton) and the expansion of drug gangs in places like Chicago? Just how direct is the connection when programs for "youth" are limited to headline-grabbing silliness while sustained programs, such as summer baseball programs, have been neglected to the point where kids have to come from middle class families in order to participate in well organized Spring, Summer and even Fall baseball?

Chicago Police baseball coach and kids in a recent photograph published by DNA Info Chicago.The answer is visible to anyone in Chicago who walks to a public school or Chicago Park District baseball diamond, as a couple of us did a week ago west of Prosser Vocational High School on Chicago's Northwest Side. The neglect of public school and public parks' baseball has become so great that even the blind can see that Emanuel and Claypool are literally letting the grass grow under all of our feet while kids across the city who are too poor to afford organized leagues are forced to watch -- or to succumb to the lure of "Hey Shorty" from their local gang leaders.

Nearly a decade ago, we began documenting the neglect of public baseball leagues for kids from tee ball all the way through high school. Oh, as the story below shows, there are leagues and teams, some of which are available to poor kids as well as to those of us in the middle class. But for the most part, it you want to participate in "America's pastime" in Chicago today, you can't unless your family can afford the $500 to $1,000 it will cost to field one player (the price of the leagues, equipment, and miscellaneous expenses for just one kid on one team).

While the gospel of "markets" combined with the gospel of austerity may not have created as big a monster in the parks over summers as the same gospels have created in the prisons (which have basically been turned over to the gangs as funding has decreased, limiting the number of guards and eliminating most rehabilitation programs completely), the specific destruction of baseball opportunities for kids in places like Chicago has had a similar, albeit smaller, impact.

While kids can play basketball (or soccer) easily with little expense, the fact is that baseball, because of its complexity, requires a great deal more of an investment of time, money, and effort than the easier "ball and players" games like soccer and basketball. And the simple fact is that without paying coaches and providing scholarships to poorer families whose children want to "Play Ball!", Chicago will continue to produce more dangerous summers than necessary.

I was reminded of this on June 22, 2017, when the news published a story about police sponsoring a league for kids on the South Side.

Police Youth Baseball League Creates 'Positive Ripples,' Builds Bonds, By Andrea V. Watson, June 22, 2017 8:50am DNA Info Chicago

ENGLEWOOD — Since joining a baseball league in Englewood in which the coaches are Chicago Police officers, 7-year-old Shawn Garrett now wants to be a policeman himself.

“I like police officers,” he said.

Returning to the Englewood Police Youth Baseball League for a second season — which kicks off with opening day next week at Hamilton Park — gives him more opportunities to ask questions about their job, he said.

“I asked them what do you do to be a police officer, and they told me you have to work hard,” Shawn said.

Andre Hazzard (from left), Shawn Garrett and Jamar Price are a part of the Englewood Police Youth Baseball League. [Provided/Nicole Johnson]

Those kinds of conversations and interactions have always been the goal, organizers said. The league, which is in its third year, has worked with 120 children ages 9-12. They are divided into six teams. Thanks to sponsor Get In Chicago, the players don't have to pay anything to play.

Andrea NaTay, owner of Forever Fitness Chicago, and Teamwork Englewood established the league and continue to manage it. Other support comes from the Chicago Police Department and the Chicago Park District.

The teams are coached by current and retired police officers and members of Omega Psi Phi Fraternity.

The league is about more than baseball, said Jermont Montgomery, the league’s program manager.

The police and those who’ve retired are able to mentor the players, and they discuss police and community relations, he said.

“The program was born out of the need for better relations between children and police,” Montgomery said.

The players participate in mentoring and personal development workshops, covering topics such as setting goals and value setting, nutrition and conflict resolution, he said.

“These young people are gaining more than just baseball skills: they are also cultivating positive connections who will mentor and support them this summer and beyond,” said Toni Irving, executive director of Get IN Chicago. “The police youth baseball collaborative has the potential to create positive ripples throughout Englewood for years to come.”

More than half of the kids are returning players.

Andre Hazzard, 9, said his mother signed him up to play, and he’s looking forward to competing and going on the trips. The Chicago Cubs have supported the team since the beginning

Jamar Price, 12, is also new to the team.

“I’m excited to meet new people,” he said.

He said that “it’s good” the police officers are involved.

“We’re on our way to solving some of these problems in the community, and if we stick to it, there’s nothing we can’t do to stop violence,” said Marco Johnson, founder of Stomping Out Drugs and Gangs Chicago Police Athletic League.

Montgomery said he would like to see more police volunteers as well as a sustainability program to ensure that the league continues.

The league kicked off with clinics and drills last month.

Opening day begins at 4 p.m. June 29 at Hamilton Park Cultural Center 513 W. 72nd St. Practices and games are held at the park from 5-7 p.m. on Tuesdays and Thursdays.


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