Just wanted to take a moment to give it up to the truly great Jackie Robinson on this historic day. It will be a pleasure to watch all the moments later this evening, hopefully including an appearance by the final #42, Mariano Rivera, in the Yankees game, whether the situation calls for it or not.
Kinda sad, though, that the corresponding talk around this day has been more about the steady decline of black players at the MLB level, and what baseball seemingly can't do to correct that trend.
As someone who's been through multiple levels of baseball, and is now raising and coaching a son through all of the rec, travel and "AAU" baseball considerations (as well as much of the same in soccer), I think that one clear impediment is socio-economic, if not purely economic.
As many of you know, for a talented kid who plays baseball, there will come a time early on, where, to "get to the next level" or to simply be able to play against the best competition, a choice has to be made. First choice - travel, which means more money for tournament fees, more uniform money, etc., and, increasingly, those local travel teams being not-so-local anymore, heading off to weekend or week-long trips to Ripken, Cooperstown, etc. More money, travel, hotels, time off of work, and so on.
For most of us, it's all pretty manageable. However, for the kid who has all the talent in the world, but not the money, it can be a life-altering choice that's forced upon him and his family at too early an age.
It seems that sports like football, and maybe basketball, don't have quite the same financial commitment as you climb the ladder, which may be why those sports can be a more reasonable landing spot for some economically disadvantaged kids. Those sports don't seem to require anywhere near a financial investment like baseball, or to some extent soccer (with Cup/Club soccer, ODP, academy teams), and to a great extent, hockey (at almost any level of play.....OMG, I'm glad I'm not one of those hockey parent$ !).
Statistically, it unfortunately remains true today that an inordinate percentage of the economically disadvantaged people in our country happen to be black. And I think THAT (to a meaningful extent) leads to THIS - a similarly inordinate level of participation in what used to be America's National Pasttime.
I know that some will simply try to lay it off on baseball being a boring sport for kids to play/watch, and that somehow this affects black kids in some inordinate way (which, of course, is BS). I would argue that if a kid likes baseball, he likes baseball, and if he thinks it's boring, he thinks it's boring (although I'd be happy to take a shot at showing him the error of his ways :-). I would also suggest that anyone who looks at Andrew McCutchen, or the Braves outfield this year of Upton/Heyward/Upton and comes away bored or unimpressed is............(well, I'd STILL like a shot at showing them the error of their ways :-).
Baseball needs to figure this out NOW. It has to figure out a way for EVERYONE who loves the game to have full access to the game, just like Jackie (and Branch Rickey) did on this day 56 years ago.
Trust me, I've seen it - some of the best and brightest kids just fall out one day because they/their families simply can't keep up with the financial commitment. Obviously, money controls the upper level of this sport, something that (as Pirates fans) drives us crazy sometimes, but that's somewhat inevitable at the professional level of any sport.
To have financial considerations, however, determining the path of some phenomenal baseball talent at 10 or 12 years old is kinda sad, and continues to waste the tireless, heroic efforts of people like Jackie Robinson to open the doors of our favorite sport to ALL of the best and brightest baseball players on the planet.
Major League Baseball can't rest until it commits a significant amount of its overflowing resources to ensure that this problem is finally put to rest.
Happy Jackie Robinson Day to all!