Saturday, August 23, 2014

Baseball. Boys. Sunflower seeds. A field. And dreams.

The Sweet Season
Part II
Miles from Williamsport, Pa., where Chicago’s Jackie Robinson West baseball team recently captured the national Little League World Series title, each year boys—and girls—play the game on local diamonds in seasons filled with life's lessons, with hopes and dreams.

The only thing stolen: bases
This is the second in a series
By John W. Fountain
No fatalism. No pathology. Simply a slice of life in middle America. Of little boys and men with Little League hopes and dreams. No gang. Team. No guns. Bats. The only hitters are base hitters. The only thing stolen: bases.
No OGs. Just older men, graying, or balding or simply seasoned by life and eager to share their wisdom. To see black boys thrive. No courthouse holding pen. Just a dugout.
No sagging. No prison orange. Uniforms—blue shirts tucked neatly into gray pants. Shoes laced and tied, caps not cocked to the side.
No bullets flying. Fly balls. No murder tally. Only runs. No running for cover. No guns. No fighting, except the fight to win.


Friday, August 15, 2014

Baseball. Boys. Sunflower seeds. A field. And dreams.

The Sweet Season

Part I
Miles from Williamsport, Pa., where Chicago’s Jackie Robinson West baseball team recently captured the national Little League World Series title, each year boys—and girls—play the game on local diamonds in seasons filled with life's lessons, with hopes and dreams.

The Sweet Season begins in Ford Heights
This is the first in a series
By John W. Fountain
  The Sweet Season. It is a time when graying or balding men—even men in their twilight years—still remember like yesterday. It is a time we all remember. A time when little boys—and girls—are innocent and free, to a certain extent, no matter what cruelty their eyes might already have seen. A time when smiles curl easily at the edges of their faces and joy shines in their eyes like the glint of sun on polished chrome. A time when boys aren’t ashamed to hug each other. When a bag of potato chips and a pat on the back from a coach are still sufficient prizes.
The Sweet Season. A time in our lives when disappointment and pain over a loss can dissolve as quickly as a two-run lead in one inning. A time when the fate of a season can hinge on one last at bat. One last hope.
It is a time when there’s not much sweeter than the sound of a bat smacking a fastball, the sight of it sailing into centerfield for a  bases-loaded-clearing hit. Or the pop of a catcher’s mitt and the yell of “Streeeeeiiiike threeeeee!!!” by a giant-sized umpire, leaping from his crouch.
Or a sip of cold water on a sun-drenched summer’s evening at the end of a sweaty game or practice, the mix of chatter and laughter of little boys rising like crickets as they their collect bats and gloves against a purplish sky. 
The Sweet Season: Baseball. Boys. Sunflower seeds. A field. And dreams. Little League Baseball teams.
This is the story of a team of boys called the Cubs, most of them from Ford Heights—a forlorn south suburban hamlet of 2,787, about 30 miles south of Chicago. It is a story about boys, who, this summer, would discover baseball. The story of a group of men with a passion for hardball and also for trying to save black boys at risk to gangs, homicide and prison—at a time when baseball has waned as the sport of choice among African Americans.
Miles from Williamsport, Pa., where Chicago’s Jackie Robinson West baseball team is currently playing in the Little League World Series, each year boys—and girls—play the game on diamonds that, despite the environs, can be fertile ground for life’s lessons and also for dreams. This is their story. The story of a season filled with challenges. A season beyond their wildest dreams.

There is something about baseball.
...Something about playing beneath a 
baby-blue sky kissed by marshmallow clouds.


Special Feature - Chicago's Jackie Robinson West returns home as National Little League Champs

Story and Photos: By Roosevelt University Journalism Students:
Katelyn J. Anderson, Elisabet Bernard, Katherine L. Childress, Katherine A. Gage, Melinda McClain, James C.Moore, Ivonne Valadez and Kurt B. Witteman

Nothing but smiles and pure elation filled the crowd of thousands Wednesday Aug. 27, as the Jackie Robinson West All-Stars returned home, bringing with them the Little League Baseball national title. Throngs of onlookers anxiously awaited the parade down Michigan Avenue, most of them dressed in bright yellow shirts emblazoned with the words “Jackie Robinson West All-Stars NATIONAL CHAMPIONS.” Among them was Lee Lewis, 44, who attended the parade with his son.
“This celebrates a great group of Chicago’s kids, kids who are coming from a part of the city that only get’s negative press,” Lewis said. “They’ve brought Chicago together, and they are great roll models for the my son.”
            As the parade approached, the crowd started to roar. Horns blasted. And children and adults chanted for these boys who captivated a nation with their poise and performance both on and off the field in the recent Little League World Series at Williamsport, Pa.

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Play Ball!

  This is a story of a group of boys, most of them from Ford Heights, who this summer, for the very first time, would discover baseball. A gregarious group of schoolboys, ages 8 to 10, who would learn to play the game as the MOF (Matteson-Olympia Fields) Cubs. It is a story that emerges amid the backdrop of Chicago, where murder, gunplay and gang activity have become a pastime for too many city—and also suburban—boys. It is the story of two men—one a coach from a middle class suburb, and the other a parks’ commissioner from a struggling hamlet. Two men with a passion for baseball and also a quest to help save black boys—at risk to gangs, homicide and prison. The story of a season filled with challenges, with highs and also with lows, with unforgettable moments and lessons for life. A season filled with baseball and big-hearted little boys. A season beyond their wildest dreams. The sweet season.

(Story, Photos and Video by John W. Fountain)


Jackie Robinson West All Stars, 
team from Chicago's South Side, 
advances to Little League World Series
First All African American team in 31 years
Photo: Chicago Tribune - click on photo to view Tribune Photo Gallery on Jackie Robinson West


Jackie Robinson West reaches 
Little League World Series
Click above for story
or below for video



Reflections: The Boyz of Summer

By John W. Fountain
    I was jingling coins in my pocket the other day, chump change to be transferred to the bedroom dresser, the ashtray in my car or an extra large apple juice bottle my wife dumps all the stray currency in. I've grown more fond of dollars than cents. Lost some respect for change.
I used to love the pocket symphony. Thirty-two was the magic number. Thirty-two cents was enough to buy a bright white rubber baseball at Mr. Penny's grocery store on West 16th Street on Chicago's West Side. A thin, dark chocolate man, he kept the balls—white ones and red ones—in a glass case behind the counter, surrounded by candy. We'd walk into the store, a couple of us,

Reflections: When baseball was good and basketball became god

By John W. Fountain
     Basketball was god. With an orange-red sun kissing the horizon, we dribbled—dripping with sweat in the summer heat as boys, playing on concrete courts the game we loved. Back then, even the least talented whispered college or NBA dreams. Basketball was god. It gave a poor ghetto boy hope. It was glorious, like Dr. J’s cotton candy Afro as he glided in thin air to a thunderous dunk. Basketball was cool, like a pair of white Chuck Taylors. Graceful—like a George Gervin finger roll.
Exhilarating—like the thrill of nailing a shot from deep with a defender in your face. Like the joy of winning a hard-fought game—just for bragging rights.
Basketball gave us status. It was our stairway to heaven. Our worship. Our escape. 
In the early ‘70s, on the West Side, we played all day. Sometimes, at night, we shot hoops underneath the stars and a glowing street lamp. Intoxicating was basketball’s lure: glory, fame and the potential promise of NBA contracts someday for some.
Except playing basketball was never really about money. There was a certain wonder in witnessing skill meet talent and talent meet hard work—coming together in basketball perfection.
Basketball was god. But it wasn’t always this way.