75 years since Jackie Robinson’s debut and a real turn in D.C. baseball

It has been 75 years since Jackie Robinson‘s debut and changing baseball forever, and all of baseball celebrates that today as we all wear No. 42. You can see the changes finally in baseball or at least you can in D.C. baseball, and the way the team has added people of color to their front office and coaching staffs. The Lerner family committed themselves to the best amateur youth baseball academy in baseball as well as youth fields built in Washington, D.C. by the team and the community. Just look at the current Washington Nationals team makeup and their stars on the rise who are African American.

One new fan is Grayson Woods, a 7 year old, from the suburbs of Atlanta, Georgia in Braves territory. He is a Nats fan which really started with his love of Juan Soto when Grayson was just 3, and as a natural lefty, he emulates Soto’s swing. Sure, he is trying to be a switch-hitter like T.J. White, another Nats’ prospect who Grayson follows. He already knows CJ Abrams, and he corresponds with his favorite player, James Wood, the top prospect in the Nats’ system, who is also the №10 prospect in all of baseball.

Grayson’s mom, Kristin Woods says, “Baseball, he eats, sleeps, and breathes it.” Why is James Wood his favorite player? That seems a little strange considering Wood is only going into his second full year of pro ball. There is the name connection with Woods and Wood, and Grayson started following him since Wood was in high school at the IMG Academy. They have followed each other on Instagram for a few years through an account that Kristin runs for her son. Grayson’s mentors, are what his mom calls his “big brothers” and part of a group called, “minority baseball prospects.”

There are actually games played by this minority baseball prospects’ group, and Grayson is one of their bat boys during the summer. He closely follows their social media pages. Grayson’s mom says that James Wood was an outlier of people that looks like her son and loves baseball. Now he knows many, and there is a mentorship and friendships and bonds that have been formed. This is the full circle of what Jackie Robinson would have wanted she said.

“It’s important for little boys to see themselves in others who have had success. … Really just playing the game they love.”

— Kristin Woods said

The future as seen by Baseball America is that the Nats’ team of position players will have exactly half represented by African American players in their projection of the year 2026, and two are Hispanic players, and if Josiah Gray was on the mound with this lineup, some might wonder what is going on and especially if Daylen Lile or Trey Lipscomb were the DH.

From the days that you might see only a few players of color is changing in D.C. baseball, and especially in the front office and coaching staffs. De Jon Watson is now running the player development side and most of the coaching staff are people of color including manager Dave Martinez who is a Hispanic American. Yes, labels might make some uncomfortable while others just want to see qualified people getting their shot, and a game that is more representative of a slice of America. Darnell Coles is the Nats’ hitting coach and Eric Young Jr. is the first base coach.

What has to change is our black community in D.C. needs to come out to support the Washington Nationals in the same numbers they go to see the Washington Wizards or Washington Commanders. Maybe it will take more time. Maybe it will never change. It is disappointing when you look around Nationals Park. Thank God for Evan Johnson who is the most recognizable Nats’ fan of color. He is often on the video board at Nats Park dancing in the stands and generally having fun.

“The reason for why I do what I do is two-fold: to tell people that baseball can be fun and to tell all the little Black kids in the crowd that there’s room in this game for us too.”

— Evan Johnson said

My family and friends are not into baseball. They say baseball is boring (what?!?), and most could not name one Nationals’ player even though the team has several black players from Abrams to Dom Smith to Gray to Stone Garrett to Carl Edwards Jr. That is 20 percent of the roster plus seven Latin American players makes 46 percent of the total roster of minority players. For an MLB team, that is better than most.

This season in MLB, rosters featured just 59 black players per reports, which works out to only 6.2 percent, down from 7.2 percent from 2022 and way off from the 18.5 percent in MLB from 1975. If the MLB drafts are any indication, the 2021 and 2022 drafts both had a very high number of African American players at the top of the draft. The Nats picked Elijah Green first at pick №5 overall in 2022.

What is Grayson doing on Jackie Robinson Day? He was up early playing baseball before most people have woken up and went 4-for-4 in the game. By the way, he already has a home run in his young career, and when he gets home, he can choose from one of his three Nats’ jerseys to wear as he gets ready to watch his favorite Nats on the television later this afternoon. Maybe after the game he will watch the movie, “42” about Robinson which he loves and has already seen. Much has changed in 75 years since Jackie, but not enough. It is not all about baseball, we have to love each other and open our minds and then one day we can discuss this more as a history lesson because everything will be right in the world. Until then, Jackie’s impact must be discussed so children like Grayson can be part of the change.

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