By Zaheer E. Clarke
(Published August 31, 2015)
“Let’s go, Brian! Let’s go!” was shouted repeatedly by Brian’s drunk friends as they jeered him for not offering his seat to any of the ladies who were standing in the packed #4 subway train. He eventually yielded, I guess to peer pressure and adopted a gentlemanlike behaviour. His friends broke out in celebrations at his newfound nobility while the passengers on the train erupted in laughter at the series of events. While holding my four-year-old daughter, who was sleeping, I flashed a smile. That’s how my night ended as I boarded the train and left “The House That Jeter Built” (Not Babe Ruth): The (New) Yankee Stadium. How the night transpired prior was quite something else.
After a bus, and a few trains through the New York Subway system, both above and underground, I came through the exit, and before me was the humongous sign “Yankee Stadium”. My mother-in-law, an avid baseball fan, like myself, purchased tickets for my entire family and me to attend. Did I say I love my mother-in-law? “I love my mother-in-law.” As we entered Gate 6, went through the punctilious security checkpoints, which I imagined was as a result of New York’s greatest tragedy, 9-11, I beheld a sea of Yankees’ fans, standing and seated before me, of over 43,000, from touching distance to the field in front to the super-high upper decks above. I was in awe.
Baseball in Jamaica though is quite the opposite. No packed stadiums, storied history, cultural imprint, or structured program from a tot to a senior. That, however, is seen with track and field or in the olden days with a sport quite similar to baseball: cricket. Though West Indian dominance in world cricket has diminished from the mountainous peaks to now, beyond a speckle, cricket still has a firm foot among the popular sports in Jamaica.
Baseball, on the other hand, is the sport that is hoping to spawn a leap from a mere speckle to Jamaica’s sports mountaintop. Chairman of the Institute of Sports (INSPORTS), Don Anderson remarked earlier this year, “Conceptually, it (baseball) is a small sport (in Jamaica) because not a lot of people are playing the sport and not a lot of people know about the sport. (However), baseball is a big sport (worldwide) and we believe that you can make a difference to help make it BIG right here in Jamaica.”
Mr. Anderson comments were enunciated at the launch of a baseball certification course for 30 primary school level physical education teachers at the GC Foster College. The course was a joint effort between Baseball Canada and INSPORTS as they attempt to propel baseball’s growth and development in Jamaica.
Four Jamaican-born individuals have played Major League Baseball (MLB). The first Jamaican to play in the big leagues was Charles ‘Chili’ Davis, in 1981. He played for storied franchises such as San Francisco Giants, California Angels, Minnesota Twins, Kansas City Royals, and eerily the team I was watching this night, the New York Yankees. Davis, a three-time All-star and three-time World Series Champion, saw his career end in 1999; nevertheless, he remains heavily involved in baseball. Currently, he is the hitting coach for the Boston Red Sox, and in the past, was the hitting coach for the Oakland Athletics and the Australian National Team. Hopefully one day we’ll say, the Jamaican National Team.
Possibly, the most famous Jamaican to play in the Majors is Devon White, an outfielder who was a three-time All-Star, three-time World Series Champion, and seven-time Golden Glove winner. Specifically, he won the World Series with the Florida Marlins (1997), and the Toronto Blue Jays (1992 and 1993).
So, the baseball game I was attending was between the New York Yankees and Toronto Blue Jays, two teams battling for a playoff spot in the American League, and two teams Jamaicans have played for. The Jamaican references were everywhere in the stadium. From the various ads of prominent Jamaica hotels; airlines promoting vacation trips to Jamaica; and additionally, a member of the US Armed Forces who the Yankees were honouring, his son, uncannily, was wearing a black t-shirt with the word “JAMAICA” in gold and green trim.
Two white fellows that sat behind me during the game, Anthony and Andrew, were comparable to the consummate duos of TV or radio baseball commentators, throughout. They were obviously avid followers of New York Yankees baseball, unlike the baseball tourists from the rest of my extended Jamaican family that had accompanied me. In another Jamaican twist, Anthony, Andrew and I talked about Yankees’ baseball, and unsurprisingly, the conversation veered off base until Anthony revealed that he did his thesis on the life of Bob Marley. The conversations just spiraled thereafter into interesting tidbits regarding Jamaica’s Usain Bolt and Bob Marley, and our two greatest exports: music and sports.
Unnoticed by us, the game was nearing its end after José Bautista, a Blue Jays’ slugger, hit a bomb into left field for the Blue Jays, and the Yankees were offering no meaningful reply in these extra innings.
Just last week while Jamaica’s athleticism was on display during the World Championships in Beijing China, the words of Kelsey McIntosh of Baseball Canada, who conducted the baseball certification course at GC Foster, in March, rang forcefully in my thoughts, “Jamaican athleticism is very great for baseball. Maybe in another 10 years you can produce another Devon White from a programme such as this.”
He is right. Jamaica’s athleticism is very great. We’ve seen it on the track, and on the football and cricket fields throughout the world. It’s fair time we witness Jamaican athleticism on display on baseball diamonds throughout Jamaica and on Major League fields in the USA. Our close neighbours; Cuba, Dominican Republic, Puerto Rico, and Venezuela, combined had roughly 180 players born in their respective countries on opening day rosters for MLB teams this year. Jamaica had none. This too will comply and can be corrected mid-track on the train rails into the future. All I’ll say is “Let’s go, Jamaica! Let’s go!”
Until next time…
© Zaheer Clarke
From the “Lies & Statistics” column in the Western Mirror (Published August 31, 2015)