Baseball’s Big Lie will continue this season, stretching from Turner Field, where Garret Anderson likely will be the only African-American for the Braves on opening day, to elsewhere in the major leagues, where the number of African-Americans overall in the game will continue its silly 30-year plunge from 27 percent to maybe eight percent.
This is disgusting. I’m talking about that plunge, along with Baseball’s Big Lie, which suggests: Courtesy of the hip-hop generation, featuring His Airness and the Falcons’ No. 7 in the recent past and the current likes of LeBron, Kobe and Dwyane, African-American youth couldn’t care less about that tired game of Jackie Robinson, Hank Aaron and the rest.
It’s just that C.J. Stewart is around to tell the truth. This former Chicago Cubs outfielder via the rough streets of Atlanta’s northwest side is in his second year of running an organization with his wife, Kelli, called LEAD (Launch, Expose, Advise, Direct). It gives free instructions on baseball, education and life to inner-city youth between the ages of 14 to 18.
Said Stewart, 32, “It’s definitely a myth that black kids don’t like baseball anymore, but here’s what’s happening. You go to the south side of Atlanta, and there are tons of kids who play, but the numbers begin to decrease. They get to a certain age where you have to have skills, because their competition elsewhere, such as in East Cobb, is being trained.”
Enter Stewart, holding tryouts this weekend for one of several teams associated with LEAD. Tryouts will take place at 2 p.m. on Saturday and Sunday at Maynard Jackson High School. Those interested can go to www.lead2legacy.org.
“Over time, our program is going to benefit the Braves the most, because most of the kids come in wearing Braves caps, and it’s their dream to play for the Braves someday,” said Stewart, which brings us to this: So who is C.J. Stewart again, and why should anybody care? Well, he’s a blessing, but only if you enjoy somebody with great passion for a cause when he has the credentials to look the other way.
For the past decade, Stewart has trained players of all colors for $100 per hour at his high-tech facility in Marietta. Many of his pupils are at major college programs such as Georgia Tech, and they often sign with the pros. Braves top prospect Jason Heyward sought Stewart’s help despite commuting from Henry County to Cobb County.
The more impressive journey is that of Stewart. While surviving Hollywood Courts housing projects, he became an honor student at Westlake High School. He later played baseball at DeKalb Junior College and Georgia State. Then he signed with the Cubs before serving as a scout for the Cincinnati Reds and forming his current Marietta business called Diamond Directors Consulting.
LEAD is Stewart’s heart, though.
“We’re going to make kids from the inner city skillful,” Stewart said. “It’s just a quick drive for them down to Turner Field, and there’s no reason why those numbers (of African-Americans in the game) can’t increase.”
Not unless baseball actually believes the Big Lie.