OAKLAND -- As baseball celebrated Jackie Robinson Day on Saturday, Astros pitcher Tony Sipp is doing his part to help increase the number of African-Americans playing the sport.
Sipp recently donated, with the help of Rawlings, $15,000 worth of baseball equipment to a Cal Ripken Baseball League in his hometown of Moss Point, Miss. Sipp said the youth league had been dismantled, but he helped fund the league, which is in a part of town that's predominantly African-American.
"Everything they needed back home, we came together and made it happen this year," said Sipp.
As thanks, Sipp said this year's jerseys for all players in the league will have his signature on the sleeves. Sipp, who's in the middle of a three-year, $18 million deal with the Astros, keeps up with the league's progress through Facebook and text messages from back home.
"They took baseball out of the city," he said. "It's an expensive game. It takes a collective effort to take it into the lower-income areas. That's a prime example. I bought a lot of equipment and sent it back home this year and they got baseball going again, but without coming back and reaching out to those guys or looking out for them, a lot of guys can't afford it. Things we take for granted -- gloves, balls, equipment -- it definitely takes extra help to fund those."
Sipp said inner-city kids gravitate to basketball and football because it's cheaper to play, so he hopes buying equipment, including pitching machines, will help a younger generation of players learn to love to play baseball.
"There's a lot of different places that are lower income, like in the Dominican Republic, they found a way," he said. "I don't know what could bridge the gap, but I just try to keep the kids active in any sports, not even just baseball. I want to keep their minds occupied and off other things."
Brian McTaggart has covered the Astros since 2004, and for MLB.com since 2009. Follow @brianmctaggart on Twitter and listen to his podcast. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.