Chicago panel offers lessons for on and off field

White Sox executive Williams joined by Wilbon, Baldwin and draftee Hickman

Chicago panel offers lessons for on and off field

CHICAGO -- Wednesday afternoon's forum from the eighth annual Double Duty Classic focused less on the history of the game for African-Americans than looking ahead at it.

Before taking the field in an afternoon showcase, inner-city high school players from across the country came to U.S. Cellular Field as part of a forum to provide insight and celebrate the history of the game.

This year's panel, including Negro Leagues Baseball Museum president Bob Kendrick, ESPN analyst and columnist Michael Wilbon and White Sox executive vice president Ken Williams, spent the morning answering questions from players and providing tips on how to improve on the field.

"I was once one of these kids," Williams said. "When you provide a glimmer of hope, a glimmer of vision, some semblance of opportunity at the their thoughts for the day, a lot of kids will run toward that. A lot of kids will grab that and make the most out of that.

"A lot of the reason we run this program is because kids who did not have that opportunity now have that opportunity and run with that."

Questions ranged from the panelists' best way to overcome adversity to what advice they might provide if they were younger. Others talked about life after baseball or just finding the best area of focus in college.

Some of that advice came from a player not too far removed from playing in the event. A seventh-round pick of the White Sox in last month's Draft, right-hander Blake Hickman played in the Double Duty Classic for four years before playing at the University of Iowa.

"Just go out and play hard," Hickman said. "Make sure you leave it all out on the field."

Hickman was joined by James Baldwin, a White Sox pitcher for seven seasons and an All-Star in 2000 who has recently coached young athletes.

"The game will give you a lot if you put the effort in and work hard," Baldwin said. "Play the game first and then worry about everything else that comes with it."

The advice from Baldwin and the other panelists was focused on what players could do to excel and develop. But that's not to say the entire day was spent looking forward. Kendrick highlighted contributions to the game provided by the Negro Leagues, such as batting helmets.

Wilbon touched on the growth of baseball in Chicago, where opportunities to play have at times been scarce.

"The structure [to grow the game] that's needed -- and the White Sox provide -- is extraordinary," Wilbon said. "You have to have that passion, you have to have that structure and you have to have kids who are willing and talented enough to participate."

As Williams noted, every year, former participants tell him they still remember the messages shared at the forum.

"It really makes you feel like you're doing something of value," Williams said.

Greg Garno is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.