As the Flying Squirrels battled the Altoona Curve at The Diamond on Friday night, a white No. 42 was emblazoned on the grass driving dwelling plate.
It was a recognition of Jackie Robinson Day, with this year of the once-a-year celebration a special one particular in individual — the 75th anniversary of Robinson’s big league debut, when he grew to become the initially Black MLB player in the fashionable era.
But also, throughout the diamond — among to start with and second base — the No. 9 was drawn in the infield dust, much too. That quantity, when not as traditionally distinct as Robinson’s 42, which has been retired across the majors due to the fact 1997, carries dual this means.
Nine was the selection that Robinson wore in his lone slight league period in 1946 with the Triple-A Montreal Royals, before he created his MLB debut on April 15, 1947. And it was also the inspiration for the identify of a new MiLB initiative — released this calendar year and dubbed “The 9.” It is a nationwide system for outreach to the Black local community all over baseball.
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According to MiLB, The 9 is “designed to honor and rejoice the historic affect a lot of Black baseball pioneers built on the activity, deliver new opportunities for youth baseball and softball participation, even more diversify the business enterprise of baseball and embrace tens of millions of passionate enthusiasts all over MiLB’s 120 communities nationwide.”
And the Flying Squirrels were selected as a person of MiLB’s five “team captains” for the initiative, for the reason that of the franchise’s heritage of attempting to maximize range in the activity and because of the metropolis of Richmond by itself, and the Traveling Squirrels’ drive to be component of alter in the town.
And, for the franchise, both of those current and blossoming initiatives will contact its involvement with the mission of The Nine.
“It’s not any singular matter that we’re accomplishing,” mentioned Todd “Parney” Parnell, the Traveling Squirrels’ chief procedure officer, on Friday afternoon. “The Nine is heading to come to be part of who we are on an each day foundation.”
The 9 software was announced Feb. 1, but it is a little something Parnell reported that Kurt Hunzeker, MLB’s vice president for insignificant league organization functions, has labored on for a when.
Black representation in MLB has declined sharply around the earlier 30 decades. Black gamers built up a substantial of 18.7% of the league in 1981, in accordance to the Society for American Baseball Analysis. But, now, that selection is just 7.2%, according to MLB.com.
The February announcement marked a dawning of the program, and teams about the activity are starting to create their respective efforts.
In Richmond, a single initiative linked to The Nine will tie into Traveling Squirrels Charities. The Flying Squirrels have labored with the Metropolitan Junior Baseball League for the period of their 13 years in the city — MJBL was launched in 1966 soon after founder Dr. William M.T. Forrester’s son was not authorized to participate in in numerous all white Tiny League courses. It is thought of 1 of the oldest Black-owned inner-town youth baseball leagues in the state.
But now, MJBL is functioning with the Richmond Law enforcement Athletic League to establish devoted baseball leagues inside community housing communities in the metropolis. And cash lifted as a result of the Flying Squirrels Charities’ golfing event on May perhaps 9 will be used to purchase jerseys for the league.
“I imagine above time, that’s where we’ll see the most influence with The 9,” Parnell claimed, of a league like the 1 that the MJBL and PAL are planning.
Also, in partnership with VCU’s Middle for Sport Management, the Flying Squirrels held a made use of glove generate for the MJBL on Friday.
In other places, even though not straight linked to The 9 — but related to the kind of perform the plan will attempt to foster across the region — is the Traveling Squirrels’ partnerships with HBCUs in the place. The club began an govt education software with Virginia Condition College final calendar year, which is aimed to groom selected pupils to turn out to be whole-time club workers. Traveling Squirrels group hospitality manager Carnie Bragg arrived from the method.
“I think we’re acknowledged as 1 of the franchises, a single of the ownership groups, who are striving to adjust what minimal league baseball appears to be like like,” Parnell reported. “This has been my everyday living for 33 decades. When I leave this, when that is, I want front offices throughout America to glimpse unique.”
The Traveling Squirrels are building a connection with Virginia Union College as very well, tied in component to its Richmond 34 Legacy Weekend, which debuted final year. The club moved the weekend from July to September this year, when courses are in session, to allow for for a lot more pupil involvement.
The Nine application isn’t a just one-year force, but will be ongoing. And the Traveling Squirrels’ involvement will carry on to unfold in much more, varied methods about time.
It is making use of Robinson’s legacy for motion.
“We’re placing techniques and packages in spot where alternatively of just declaring, ‘We want to alter,’ we’re making that adjust,” Parnell said. “And I feel, to me, which is the most significant variation in how we’re going about it now and how we see the development that we’re producing.”