15th Annual Event Brings Out Black Baseball Moms In Support of Their Sons
On this mid-July weekend, a beautiful ocean blue sky with a couple of white puffy clouds, painted, perhaps by the almighty, a fleeting summer breeze cooled the sun’s rays that beamed down on Black teenage baseball players showcasing their talent in the 15th annual Mentoring Viable Prospects (MVP) tournament.
While the kids from Florida, Chicago, California, North Carolina, Virginia, and Atlanta competed on the Georgia State University baseball field, smoke bellowed from a black barbeque grill made from a big drum. The aroma of grilled burgers floated towards the sky, commingling with the flavor of fried fish cooking on a portable deep fryer from across the way.
Musical sounds from the 1960s grooved throughout the stadium; old, beaded men moved and shook, popping and locking it in the rhythm of James Brown, Kool and the Gang, and The Fresh Prince. Women of various ages holding babies danced in their seats as if at a large family gathering on the Fourth of July.
Black College baseball coaches from Alabama State, Grambling, Alabama A & M, Florida A & M, Rust College, and Clark Atlanta came with note pads and radar guns taking a measure of the youngsters on the field. Into this bevy of coaches came the national cross-checkers for the San Diego Padres, New York Yankees, and the Atlanta Braves. Every year several players come away with college scholarships, and a few are offered free-agent contracts or go on the draft board in the next year’s draft.
The MVP board canceled last year’s event due to COVID-19; the reunion of the coaches and scouts had the feel of a homecoming. They were all glad to put last year in the review mirror and to see one another again.
Against this backdrop, flocked mothers of the young men playing on the field. Mothers are the unsung heroes in the resurgence of baseball in the Black community. Back in the golden ages, when twenty-eight percent of all major league players were Black Americans, it was mainly a male-driven support system for the Black players. Their fathers were always in the stands, cheering them and inspiring them to excellence.
But now that the number of opportunities in the major leagues have dropped to fewer than eight percent, Black moms have become active in the baseball development of their sons. Today’s Black baseball moms are on a mission. They want to ensure their sons receive every opportunity that White or Asian kids have towards developing baseball skills and, more importantly, a fair evaluation of their talent.
In 2019 a private Facebook group, Black Baseball Moms, was organized by Monique L. Boyce and Kristina Arnwine Toliver as “a place to come together and share info, resources, and discuss the unique position of being the mom of a Black baseball player.”
Two years later, Black Baseball Moms have a membership of over 1800 moms. Several members of the group attended the MVP tournament to cheer on their sons. A few members in the area who did not have sons in the tournament came to support the son of a group member.
Black baseball moms at the MVP tournament ranged from mothers of players with over a decade of big-league service to a mom of a five-year-old just starting to dream of a baseball career. Already this mom has planned out the future coaches who will develop her five-year-old son as he grows into adulthood.
Although not official Facebook group members of Black Baseball Moms, Yvonne Upton and Regenia Jackson could certainly be considered the “Queens of Black Baseball Moms.”
Upton is the mother of Major League player Justin Upton and former Major League outfielder B. J. Upton.
The Upton brothers come from good stock. Their father, Manny Upton, played football and baseball at Norfolk State University in the late 1970s. Their mother, Yvonne, was a top-notched softball player in the Chesapeake Bay area. One of the brothers’ grandfathers, Skinny Green, played baseball during the Negro League era, and the other grandfather, William Haywood Gordon, played for local Negro teams in the Tidewater area.
Although Justin and B. J. have the genetic makeup to play baseball at a high level; it was not easy for either of them to get to the big league. They faced the perils presented to every Black kid playing baseball today.
“My sons were always being left off the all-star teams when they were in little league ball. The White parents would tell me that it was wrong when they passed over my boys to play in these advanced games,” Upton said.
“At an early age, I knew they both could play. I didn’t know my boys would make it into the major league, but I would help get them a chance. Whenever they were left off an advanced team, I would find a way to get them a tryout. Each time they would go out, and the new coach would be amazed their coach had not recommended them,” Upton said.
Regenia Jackson, Upton’s best girlfriend forever and the mom of USA baseball Olympian and Major League pitcher Edwin Jackson said, “You would not believe the emotional pressure placed on a Black kid in baseball. As a mother of a Black baseball player, we must constantly pick them up and keep them inspired to do their best. It is not easy getting to the major leagues, and it is not easy staying there when you get there.”
Both veteran Black baseball moms agreed, more is expected of Black baseball players, and their errors are not forgiven easily like the missteps of other minority players.
Black baseball mom, Tina Garrison-Nunez, has a 20-year-old son, Nasim Nunez, playing in the Florida Marlins farm system. Nasim is a 2019 graduate of Collins Hill High School. She came out to the MVP to support her son Jaden Nunez who pitched his team’s closing game in the tournament.
Baseball does not come easy for her, a New York native, as she explains:
“I was a basketball girl. I love the Knicks, but when my boys fell in love with the game of baseball, I committed to helping them reach their dream.”
Continuing, Nunez said, “When I found the group Black Baseball Moms on Facebook, it was a Godsend. Through this group, I have met families and made families. When your kids are involved in travel ball, you can’t always get to the games. I can call a friend in a city where my son is playing, and they will go out and support him. I do the same for other families.”
Nunez’s advice to other Black baseball moms:
“You must learn the jargon of baseball, so you don’t look stupid talking about it’s a touchdown when it is a home run. You must understand things like pitch count so your son is not getting abused by a coach. Also, don’t forget to enjoy the ride because the ride is too fast. Enjoy the times when the big thing your son talked about was the snack and not what happened in the game.”
Kristin Johnson-Woods has a five-year-old son who fell in love with baseball when he was two years old. This year is his third year playing baseball.
“He picked up a bat when he was two years old. We noticed that he instinctively knew how to hold the bat. So we started feeding his passion. I’m in it for the long haul,” Johnson-Woods stated.
“What I like about Black Baseball Moms is that we are a support system to lift each other when it is needed. We give each other advice. The business of baseball is cutthroat. In the past, Black moms in baseball did not get credit for building our boys up. It is a constant battle to keep their emotional intelligence up.”
In the past few years, we have seen what Black Girl Magic has done in politics. Watch out Major League Baseball, ready or not; Black Baseball Moms are coming for more roster spots on major league teams. And one thing you don’t want to do is mess with a Black momma when it comes to her child.
Harold Michael Harvey is the Living Now 2020 Bronze Medal winner for his memoir Freaknik Lawyer: A Memoir on the Craft of Resistance. He is the author of a book on Negro Leagues Baseball, The Duke of 18th & Vine: Bob Kendrick Pitches Negro Leagues Baseball. He writes feature stories for Black College Nines. Com. Harvey is a member of the Collegiate Baseball Writers Association, HBCU and PRO Sports Media Association, and a member of the Legends Committee for the National College Baseball Hall of Fame. Harvey is an engaging speaker. Contact Harvey at [email protected].