Baseball fans oriented to the South Side have something to cheer about this season – and not just the fact that Cuban sensation Jose Abreu is in the running to lead the American League in both home runs and runs batted in.
It’s not enough to pull the Chicago White Sox into contention for a division title.
BUT THERE WILL be talk of “World Series” bandied about on Thursday, and hopefully in coming days.
For we’re at that tournament in which youth league teams from around the world converge in Williamsport, Pa. – the annual home of the Little League World Series.
There are some “international” ball clubs present, but most are from the United States. And this year, the team representing the Great Lakes Region is from right here in Chicago – the predominantly-African-American Roseland neighborhood to be exact.
For the Jackie Robinson West Little League champion team this year advanced through the rounds of qualifying games to beat an Indiana team to make the trip to Williamsport.
ON THURSDAY, THEY will play their first game in the World Series against a team from Lynnwood, Wash. ESPN will carry the game live at 2 p.m.\
Mayor Rahm Emanuel has talked of having a viewing party so Chicagoans can watch the game, while Gov. Pat Quinn declared a “day” across Illinois for this year’s Jackie Robinson championship team.
That’s pretty heady stuff, particularly since the Jackie Robinson League baseball program is usually something only the Chicago Defender newspaper bothers to pay any attention to – and even then only to get a picture of a kid looking cute while trying to do something athletic.
So chances are most of us Chicago baseball fans had no clue what was happening in Roseland that a baseball team good enough to make it to the international tournament was in our midst.
REMEMBER THE CONTROVERSY from a year ago when the baseball program at Walter Payton College Prep tried cancelling out a game against Gwendolyn Brooks College Prep out of fear of the neighborhood?
That was Roseland as well, and in fact the Brooks high school uses Jackie Robinson League facilities for its program.
It will be intriguing to see a group of inner-city kids taking on the more heavily-experienced (when it comes to travel) teams that usually wind up playing in these youth tournaments.
And if some baseball fans get a jolt to see that black kids don’t just dunk basketballs, that may be a plus as well.
NOW I’M NOT about to predict a Chicago victory in the Little League World Series. The Jackie Robinson West champions (Jackie Robinson East baseball is played out in Newark and Jersey City, N.J.) may well be among the first teams knocked out this year.
Although let’s be honest.
If they were to accomplish something, it would be the sporting highlight of the year for Chicago – particularly since neither professional baseball club is going to win anything of significance this season.
So go Jackie Robinson West. Beat Lynnwood. And do the city proud as you work your way through the ranks of the top youth league baseball players the world has to offer. Show them you belong!