By Aaron Allen, The Seattle Medium
Baseball and softball are two of America’s favorite past times, but in some communities access to the game can be difficult if not none existent. The Seattle Mariners Hometown Nine fellowship program is looking to change that.
Hometown Nine is a multi-year fellowship program that addresses barriers encountered by student-athletes, particularly student athletes of color, to play organized sports. Every year the program accepts 8th grade students of color and follows them through high school, a total program commitment of five years.
“The hometown nine is a fellowship program the we [the Mariners] developed last summer, the summer of 2020,” says McKenzie Mitchell, On Base Programs and Communications Coordinator. “The way that the program works is we accept nine youth from the BIPOC community into the program each year. They are baseball and softball players and then we keep them for the duration of their high school careers. So, they are with us until they graduate from high school and hopefully beyond that.”
According to many experts, sports is beneficial to all especially children and young people. Participation in sports can help build self-confidence, physical and mental health as well as leadership skills and developing friendships. But more importantly is should be accessible to all children.
Every child’s environment, socially and economically, is different and unfortunately there are children out there who lack the necessary resources to become involved in the activities they desire and love and want to participate in. The Mariners want to bridge the gap, so that a child who wants to experience and compete in baseball, softball or both can have that opportunity.
According to Hometown Nine website, “in 2019 research by the Aspen Institute, the University of Washington, and King County Parks, organized sports like baseball and softball are too expensive and culturally exclusive for many young people. Youth of color, kids from homes that don’t speak English, young people with disabilities, and children from lower-income families all face significant barriers to organized sports. In addition, girls consistently enjoy less physical activity than boys”.
The Mariners and their non-profit, Mariners Care provide resources and support for the academic, social and emotional needs of the recipients. They also provide financial assistance to help offset the cost of baseball and softball training and playing fees which can get quite expensive.
Spear headed by Mitchell with the help of current and former players, the most important aspect of the program is mentorship, as the athletes get an opportunity to better their skills under the tutelage of professional players. However, what the Mariners pride themselves on as it relates to the program is the mentorship time spent with both management personnel and players.
According to Mitchell, the program was developed out of the stories of Black professional ballplayers and the struggles they experienced as kids and how they felt their experience wasn’t the same as White players as far as accessibility and development. So, mentoring and actively participating with the young people is one of the most important aspects of this program.
“My favorite part is that the Mariners and Mariners Care paired the athletes with two mentors from all different parts across the organization,” says Mitchell. “And we pair them with Mariners player mentors as well to really give them that robust support system of positive adult role models who are really invested in their growth and development.”
Former recipients like 13-year-old Joy Wilde, who has been attending junior high school in Tacoma online and taking online courses at Lincoln High School, have already benefitted from the program. A softball player for the Northwest Bullets and a baseball player for team Driveline, Wilde, one of the program’s inaugural student athletes, says that the program has helped her both on and off the field.
“I always loved watching the Mariners and through one of my mom’s friends on Facebook I learned about the program and decided to apply,” says Wilde. “I was very excited to be accepted in the first class. I really like the mentorship that is a part of the program. They helped me with development in softball and baseball, but they also mentored me on things and problems outside of sports and anything going on in life, they are there to help you and they are always there for you.”
Former players like Alvin “Mr. Mariner” Davis, who played for the Seattle Mariners from 1984 to 1991, are excited and enthusiastic about the program as well.
“I am overwhelmingly positive and excited and honored to be a part of this program,” says Davis. “This is an answer to the lack of young Black kids in baseball and getting more young people of color interested and involved, something I was aware of years before. So, this is one of the reasons why I have been willing to serve on the select committee.”
Still in its infancy the Hometown Nine wants to build a legacy in youth activism and community service and provide a model for the rest of the country to follow, as it prepares young people for athletic and academic success – and a future as community leaders.
Davis says that the program is not only important to the development of the youth, but it also provides a pathway for people like himself to continue making a difference in the broader community.
“I lot things come to mind when I think about the Hometown Nine and its importance,” say Davis. “All of us are trying to make a difference, I am a believer and follower of Jesus Christ and when asked about ‘what is the greatest of the commandments’ his answer was ‘love your God with all your heart soul mind and strength’, but the second greatest was ‘love thy neighbor as yourself’ so to me particularly as a Black man the opportunity to show love to one another and live a life making a difference, the Hometown Nine program connects to that desire I have.”
To learn more about this amazing program, visit https://www.mlb.com/mariners/community/on-base/hometown-nine#how.