Desmond, an 11-year-old MLB veteran, has played in the past three seasons with the Rockies after signing a five-year $ 70 million contract.
“I am immensely grateful for my career and for all the people who influenced it,” he said. “But when I think about it, I find myself seeing those same boxes. The golden rules of baseball – I don’t enjoy myself, I don’t protest at home, I don’t play with the character. Those are white rules. Don ‘Don’t do anything special. Lower it one level. Keep it all in the box. “
“We fully support Ian and his family and the decision they have made,” said director of the Rockies Jeff Bridich. “It’s the right decision for them and for him … What he put out yesterday was very felt.”
Desmond will spend the season on a baseball field again – just a Little League diamond in Sarasota, Florida where he grew up. He will work to bring the city’s youth baseball league back on track, he said.
“With a pregnant wife and four young children who have many questions about what’s going on in the world, home is where I need to be right now,” he said. “Home for my wife, Chelsey. Home to help. Home to drive. Home to answer questions from my three older children about Coronavirus, civil rights and life. Home to be their dad.”
The other players forgo the MLB season
Now, players are expected to show up for training this week on July 1st.
Ryan Zimmerman and pitcher Joe Ross won’t play, the team confirmed Monday. Not even Arizona Diamondback left-handed pitcher Mike Leake, according to a statement from his agent. Zimmerman and Leake both claimed that the family was taken into account in their decisions.
Read Desmond’s full statement:
“A few weeks ago, I told the social media world a little bit about myself that I never talked about. I started by saying why it was like this: I don’t like sadness and anger. I had discovered that a uniform keel allowed me to pass my days more easily than the emotion. So, I kept it inside. But this has an internal cost, and I could no longer hide what I was feeling. The image of Officer Derek Chauvin’s knee on the neck of George Floyd, the gruesome murder of a black man on the street at the hands of a police officer, broke my coping mechanism and repressing my emotions became impossible.
Ever since I started sharing my thoughts and experiences as a biracial man in America, I have received many requests for processing. But it is difficult to know where to start. And, in truth, there is a lot in my mind. Here is a little.
I recently drove around the Little League fields where I was practically raised here in Sarasota.
I’m not in great shape. They look run down. Overlooked. When I saw a Cal Ripken Little League program pasted on a bulletin board, I went over to check it out, and it was from 2015. The only bright and new thing, in my eyes, was a USSSA banner. Travel ball. Storefronts. So, not so much baseball for everyone … as much as baseball for everyone who can afford it.
I walked through those fields, deserted at the time and my mind ran. I stopped at a memorial for a man named Dick Lee; Federal Coast Head Coach and Executive, Sarasota Little League, 1973-1985. There was a quote from him on the plate:
‘Many men loved some of their best moments in life as they stop and take time to reflect on the young people they have helped develop, from childhood to virility, with the ability to move forward in life. In no other activity has man been able to see this growth better than he has in the heart and character of this nation.
‘Seeing our youth grow and developing the knowledge and skills to play baseball is a reward that only those involved could know. Baseball not only develops the physical abilities of our youth, but develops a person with a knowledge of fair play, always emphasizing the desire to win.
‘That great moment comes when you look at the final product and realize the work done. There is nothing more satisfying when looking at these young people than listening to that familiar voice that calls “Hello, coach!” transcending that special spirit of pride “.
I know it seems simple to say, as a Major League Baseball player, that these fields have been important in shaping my life. But I don’t mean my career.
I read Dick Lee’s words, stopped there and thought about when I was 10, and my stepfather dropped me for a baseball test. He never came back to pick me up. Later, as I sobbed alone at the top of the steps, a kind stranger offered me the opportunity to make a phone call to notify my mother.
I thought at the time, not long after, when my coach, John Howard, seeing that I was shocked by an out or something, wrapped me in a hug so strong that I can still remember how his arms felt around me. How he felt embraced that way; embraced by a man who cared the way I felt.
Then, another memory struck me: my high school teammates sang “White Power!” before the games. We would like to say the Lord’s prayer and get our hands in the middle so that all white children can scream. Two black guys from the whole team sat in a stunned silence that the white players didn’t seem to notice. I started walking around the fields a bit, and that’s when I thought of Antwuan.
In these fields I learned a game I played 1,478 times at the Major League level. It started when I was 10, 11, 12 – exactly how old Antwuan was (12) when I met him at the Nationals Youth Baseball Academy in D.C.
He could not read. He could barely say his ABC. One morning, when his mother was dragging Antwuan and his brothers to his aunt’s house at 4 in the morning to be able to work, they opened the door to a man stabbed to death on the ground. So, without sleep, traumatized by the murder literally outside their door, eating who knows what for lunch, they go to school. And are they expected to perform in a class?
In the meantime, my children fly across the country watching their father play. They attend private schools and get extra programs from learning centers. They have safe places to learn, grow, develop. But … the only thing that divides us from Antwuan is money.
It makes no sense. Because priority no. 1 of society does not offer all children the best possible education? If we really want to see change, isn’t education where it all starts? Give all children a safe place to go for eight hours a day. Where their teachers or coaches are happy to see them. Where they feel supported and loved.
I went back to those Little League camps because I wanted to understand why they thrived as I remembered. What came to my mind was more confusion.
I had most of my heart broken and the most contentment right there on those fields – in the exact same place. I felt the pain of racism, the loneliness of abandonment and many other emotions. But I also felt the triumph of success. The love of others The support of a group of men who pull on each other and gather together as a team.
I tried it because it was a place where baseball could be played by any kid who wanted it. It was there, it was convenient, and it was run by people who cared.
But if we don’t have these parks, academies, teachers, coaches, religious institutions – if we don’t have communities that invest in people’s lives – what happens to children who are heartbroken and never get that moment of realization?
If what Dick Lee knew to be true remains such – that baseball is about passing on what we have learned to those who come after us in the hope of improving the future of others – then it seems to me that the American pastime is not failing do that which could, just like the host country.
Think about it: right now in baseball we have a labor war. We have rampant individualism in the field. In club houses we have racist, sexist, homophobic jokes or problems across the board. We cheated. We have a top-down minority problem. An African American GM. Two African American managers. Less than 8% of black players. No black majority team owner.
Perhaps most disheartening of all is a bewildering lack of attention in understanding how to change those numbers. Lack of attention in making baseball accessible and possible for all children, not just those who are privileged to afford it.
If baseball is the American pastime, it may never have been more suitable than it is now.
Antwuan was 12 when he began attending the Nationals Youth Baseball Academy – because that was when he began to exist in his universe as a resource. We got him a tutor, went into other programs and learned to read. He was on the right track.
He died when he was 18, shot 31 times in Washington DC. A 16-year-old boy has just been arrested for his murder.
It is almost safe to say that the best years of his life have come from that Academy … yet the staff who run it must beg people to invest time and money.
How can it be? Why is there no such academy in every single community? Why must Major League Baseball have a specific youth baseball affiliate with RBI? Why can’t we support the teaching of play to all children, but especially to those of disadvantaged communities? Why are accessible and accessible sports for young people not seen as an essential opportunity to influence children’s development, as opposed to making money and recruiting opportunities? It is difficult to wrap our heads.
I won’t tell you that today I look at the world, baseball or whatever, and I feel like I have the answers. I do not. I’m not a perfect person. I kept my emotions inside for so long because it seemed easier to numb me than to embrace the why behind my feelings.
Doesn’t it seem easier to block it when you walk on the street and you see women clutching their bags at sight? To push you behind when you find out that your elementary school had to hold a meeting for all the students to let them know that you and your sister – two black children – were about to enroll? To put an end to it when someone makes a racist joke or suggests that you have to be an athlete because how else could you have such a beautiful home? He forced me into a box.
And, in many ways, I feel like everything in my life is about boxes.
I remember that as a biracial child I was afraid to fill out the paperwork. I feared those boxes: white, black, others. The biracial venue is an absolutely unique experience and there are so many times when you feel you belong everywhere and nowhere at the same time. I knew I wasn’t going around with the privilege of having white skin, but of being raised by a white mother (an incredible mother), I never felt completely immersed in black culture.
I almost always checked for black. Because I felt prejudices. Here’s what being black means to me: do you feel pain? Do you experience racism? Do you feel at a disadvantage?
Even in baseball. I am immensely grateful for my career and for all the people who influenced it. But when I think about it, I find myself seeing those same boxes. The golden rules of baseball: don’t have fun, don’t go racing at home, don’t play with the character. Those are white rules. Don’t do anything special. Lower it one level. Keep everything in the box.
It is no coincidence that some of my best years came when I played under Davey Johnson, whose number one line for me was, “Desi, get out and express yourself.” If, in other years, I had allowed myself to be who I was – to play for free and how I was born to play, would I have been better?
If we didn’t force black Americans into America’s white box, think about how much we could thrive.
The COVID-19 pandemic has made this baseball season one that is a risk that I am not comfortable with. But that doesn’t mean I’m going to leave baseball for the year. I’ll be right here in my old Little League, and I’m working with everyone involved to make sure we get Sarasota Youth Baseball back on track. It’s what I can do, in the pattern of so much. Me too.
With a pregnant wife and four young children who have a lot of questions about what’s going on in the world, home is where I need to be right now. Home for my wife, Chelsey. Home to help. Home to drive. Home to answer questions from my three older children about Coronavirus, civil rights and life. Home to be their dad.
Ian Desmond “