MLB reaching out to minority youth

MLB reaching out to minority youth

MLB reaching out to minority youth
Andrew Young, in his 70s during this information age, was taken aback by the marvels of modern technology recently. And it gave him better perspective on the importance of today's youth.

Young, the former Atlanta mayor and a critical activist during the Civil Rights Movement, recently wondered aloud about the date of Nelson Mandela's birth. A young lady standing within earshot reached in her pocket, pulled out her cell phone, and within seconds relayed the information (July 18, by the way).

It was another reminder of just how much times have changed.

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"I had to go to a library, and I had to wait in line to check out a book, and I had to look through the table of contents; it took me half a day to find out one thing I wanted to know," Young, now 78, said. "They can find it out in seconds. So the world is going to expect a lot more out of them than it does of me."

That's why Young was joined by Jimmie Lee Solomon, Major League Baseball's executive vice president of baseball development, and Hank Aaron, arguably the greatest ballplayer in history, in making an appearance at Atlanta's predominantly black Jean Childs Young Middle School, named after Young's late wife, a passionate proponent of education. The trio spoke with a group of local youth about their forefathers, baseball's impact on racial equality and their future.

It was the first appearance that MLB will sponsor in the leadup to the May 15 Civil Rights Game between the Phillies and Braves at Turner Field.

"It is my job -- my job -- to tell them the truth, because most of them look at me and say, 'Oh, he hit 755 home runs; I ought to be able to do the same thing,'" Aaron said. "And that's not true. Probably one or two of them may not ever hit two home runs, and that's the truth of the matter. And my job is to tell them that, in spite of not being successful in baseball or sports, they can be doctors, they can be lawyers, they can be anything they want to be. But they have to put themselves into it, and it requires hard work."

The fifth annual Civil Rights Game, like the four before it, will celebrate the impact of past African-American players -- players these children never saw play and may never have even heard of.

While thinking back, though, Solomon, who is leading Commissioner Bud Selig's efforts to promote the game in African-American communities, remembers to look forward.

One example is the May 14 Youth Summit "Wanna Play?" event at Centennial Olympic Park. That morning, kids will mingle with current and former Major Leaguers through interactive stations, baseball and softball clinics and a Q&A panel. The free event, which this year will conclude with a parade to Turner Field, drew more than 6,000 kids to Fountain Square in Cincinnati in 2010. This year, Solomon is hoping to at least match that number.

Kids, he believes, are crucial to this game.

"The Commissioner has said over and over again that baseball is a social institution, and we have obligations to our society," Solomon said. "As such, we feel [that] coming into schools like this during the months preceding our Civil Rights Game ... is basically an obligation on our part to educate kids and get one-on-one with them and talk to them about things that happened long before they were alive, but have a direct impact on their lives today and in the future."

Alden Gonzalez is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his columns and his blog and follow him on Twitter. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.