Declining diversity: Financial commitment a concern
Growing up in Fort Meade, Fla., Pirates star center fielder Andrew McCutchen was blessed with the ability to play baseball, but he needed a proper forum to showcase his prodigious skills.
When McCutchen was 11, people in his hometown helped out so he could attend Roberto Clemente's baseball camp in Puerto Rico. McCutchen was named the best player in his age group, and he was invited back the next two years.
“The only way you really get recognized is you have to get outside your town,” the three-time All-Star said. “My parents made a lot of sacrifices for me. I was blessed because there were so many people who would take me in when my parents had to work. They would give me money and help me out. My talent basically got me where I needed to go. Coaches wanted me on their team, so they would do what they could.
“It's a little tougher if you're not the best player,” McCutchen said, “and you have to financially afford where you want to go.”
The decline of African-Americans in Major League Baseball is significant. Blacks made up only 8.5 percent of all players on this year's Opening Day rosters.
Among the reasons given for the decline is the financial commitment required for travel, as well as uniform and equipment costs. A composite bat, for instance, can cost $400.
“Being with the Pittsburgh RBI program (sponsored, in part, by MLB to assist in the development and advancement of African-American baseball players), I got a lot of stuff that I needed as far as gloves and bats,” said Ta'Juan Dutrieuville, who played baseball at Woodland Hills and recently completed his freshman season at Penn State Greater Allegheny.
How expensive is it to develop, train and equip a baseball player? The parents of Pitt outfielder Bo Vazquez said it requires a major financial commitment.
“As a family, you have to make concessions, because how many parents will say it's not worth it?” Maryellen Vazquez said. “I can't tell you the last time we had a family vacation that wasn't related to baseball or soccer. It's not even the (tournament) fees. It's the travel. It's the tolls. It's the hotels.”
When the Vazquezes moved from Orlando, Fla., to Boardman, Ohio, they made a detour through Michigan so 13-year-old Bo could play in a national tournament.
“I flew down to Florida. We finished packing. We put everything in the car and drove straight to Detroit so he could play,” Ben Vazquez said.
“They won the tournament,” he said.
Josh Bell, the Pirates' 2011 second-round draft pick from Dallas Jesuit High School, signed for a MLB-record $5 million bonus.
“My family played a huge impact, the amount of time my dad spent with me every day when he got home from work,” said Bell, who plays for the Pirates' Class-A affiliate in Charleston, W.Va. “Just having that support my entire childhood really prepared me for baseball.”
The financial support Bell received from his family also helped advance his baseball development.
“I think in terms of why more African-American kids don't play baseball is financial,” said Bell's mother, Myrtle, a management professor at the University of Texas at Arlington.
Bell's father, Earnest, has a master's degree in computer science.
“I guess it was expensive, but I don't think we thought of it in those terms,” Myrtle Bell said. “We did a lot of traveling, we had a lot of fun.”
Myrtle Bell mentioned Oakland A's outfielder Michael Choice — the No. 10 overall draft pick in 2010 who attended UT-Arlington — as a talented black player who followed a non-traditional route to the majors.
“He was phenomenally good, but he didn't even get a college scholarship at first,” she said. “His select team coach went to my school and told the coach you need to see this guy. There's so many black superstars out there who never get the opportunity. We're missing out on a whole lot by missing out on the African-American baseball player.”