LOVERRO

The Washington Times Daily - - SPORTS - THOM LOVERRO

has been op­er­at­ing a grow­ing RBI pro­gram (Re­viv­ing Base­ball in In­ner Ci­ties).

“I al­ways said when base­ball came back to Wash­ing­ton, when the Na­tion­als came here, it would pick back up again be­cause we have Ma­jor League Base­ball in the area,” Wil­liams said. “It should cre­ate more in­ter­est.”

“I think it can be changed,” he said. “It’s just a mat­ter of cre­at­ing the in­ter­est. The Nats Academy there helps do that and I work with the D.C. Grays and they run the RBI pro­grams in town and that’s been another big part of get­ting more kids in­ter­ested.”

It’s only right that Jimmy Wil­liams is part of any lo­cal base­ball re­vival for African-Amer­i­cans. He has been a pres­ence in base­ball lo­cally for more than five decades, go­ing back to his star high school days at East­ern High to a re­mark­able pro­fes­sional ca­reer from 1964 to 1981 with three ma­jor league or­ga­ni­za­tions, play­ing from Panama to Ja­pan.

He never played one ma­jor league game, but has played with and against such ma­jor lea­guers like Davey Lopes, Garry Mad­dux, Rico Carty, Davey John­son, Ron Cey, and Dave King­man, among many oth­ers. “In 1971 in Phoenix, with the Giants or­ga­ni­za­tion, Dave King­man was my room­mate,” Wil­liams said. “Not on the road, but at home,” he said. “Peo­ple thought Dave was kind of strange but Dave was nice to me. Be­ing a black guy down there I didn’t think I had a chance of stay­ing with a white guy.”

He also played against the great Sada­haru Oh, the leg­endary all-time Ja­panese home run leader, as Wil­liams played sev­eral sea­sons in Ja­pan. He would play for one sea­son near the end of his ca­reer with the lo­cal Alexan­dria Dukes in 1978, and fin­ish his ca­reer in Mex­ico — a ca­reer that be­gan bat­ting against Milt Pap­pas in work­outs at Me­mo­rial Sta­dium after sign­ing with the Ori­oles in 1964.

“They liked what they saw and they signed me,” Wil­liams said. “This was be­fore the draft started. “There were other teams that came to see me. The Cubs, the Pi­rates, and the Sen­a­tors wanted to sign me.

“That was my big­gest mis­take,” he said. “I should have signed with the Sen­a­tors. The Ori­oles were start­ing to get good. In two years they would be in the World Se­ries. You couldn’t move in their mi­nor league sys­tem. That’s what hap­pened to Mike Ep­stein. He was mi­nor league player of the year at AAA and was stuck there. He made a fuss, and wound up get­ting traded to the Sen­a­tors.”

That does seem to be Wil­liams’ fate­ful de­ci­sion — not wind­ing up in Wash­ing­ton, where there would have been op­por­tu­ni­ties to play. As it was, the three or­ga­ni­za­tions he would play for from 1964 to 1971, in­clud­ing six sea­sons at the Class AAA level, were three of the best in base­ball — the Ori­oles, the Los An­ge­les Dodgers and the San Fran­cisco Giants.

He would win a bat­ting ti­tle and be among the league lead­ers at sev­eral stops — bat­ting .286 in 1,047 mi­nor league games, while hit­ting .276 in 169 Mex­i­can League games and .249 in 213 Nip­pon Pro Base­ball games.

Mixed in were some stops in in­de­pen­dent base­ball — in­clud­ing the leg­endary 1979 In­ter Amer­i­can League — where Davey John­son got his man­ag­ing start with the Mi­ami Ami­gos

“That was a lot of fun,” he said. “I played with the Panama team. Chico Salmon was my man­ager. I bat­ted against Mike Cuel­lar at the end of his ca­reer.” But the league would fold.

Wil­liams is a base­ball lifer, and still be­lieves he has some base­ball left to teach. “I’ll be 71 in May,” he said. “I can still hit fun­goes and throw bat­ting prac­tice pretty well.”

● Thom Loverro hosts his weekly pod­cast “Cigars & Curve­balls” Wednesdays avail­able on iTunes and Google Play. (Full dis­clo­sure — he is a board mem­ber of the D.C. Grays).

As base­ball cel­e­brated the 70th an­niver­sary of Jackie Robin­son break­ing the color bar­rier, the sto­ries emerged about the lack of par­tic­i­pa­tion of African-Amer­i­cans in the game — now re­port­edly, at a lit­tle more than seven per­cent, the low­est ever seen in Ma­jor League Base­ball since that his­toric 1947 sea­son.

No one has to tell Jimmy Wil­liams about the dis­ap­pear­ing African-Amer­i­can pres­ence in base­ball. He’s watched it first hand, as a coach, men­tor and one of the keep­ers of the flame of the game in the Wash­ing­ton area.

Wil­liams has watched the de­cline over the years, as the base­ball coach at the Univer­sity of the District of Columbia, Howard Univer­sity, an in­struc­tor for sev­eral high school pro­grams and an am­a­teur base­ball um­pire.

“It’s hard,” said Wil­liams, cur­rently coach­ing base­ball at Prince Ge­orge’s County Com­mu­nity Col­lege. “I def­i­nitely don’t see as many African-Amer­i­can kids as I used to. And the tal­ent level is the big thing now. I don’t know how many of these kids are just pushed out there to make a team and how many are out there out of a de­sire to play base­ball.

“I hardly see any African-Amer­i­cans play­ing ball, and, and if they are they are not re­ally get­ting the full op­por­tu­nity of play­ing a lot of in­nings,” he said.

He is op­ti­mistic, though, about the re­vival of base­ball in the African-Amer­i­can com­mu­nity lo­cally. He is part of a strong pro­gram at Prince Ge­orges Com­mu­nity Col­lege and also is a coach on the staff of the D.C. Grays, the non­profit or­ga­ni­za­tion that fields a team in the Cal Rip­ken Col­le­giate Base­ball League and plays its home games at the Wash­ing­ton Na­tion­als Youth Academy.

The Grays’ com­mit­ment is to bring base­ball op­por­tu­ni­ties to in­ner city youths in the District, and as part of that,

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