CA: Millington baseball team mixes small town, diversity values

CA: Millington baseball team mixes small town, diversity values

Great things can happen when people see their Americanness through the same lens.

And right now, for Millington and the National Urban Professional Baseball League, professional baseball is providing that lens.

Millington is known as Flag City, and its USA Stadium is the perfect place for America’s favorite pastime, baseball.

Between 1986 and 1996, the stadium hosted more than 300 baseball players who made it to the major leagues. Thousands of foreign players, as well as college, high school and Olympians, have played there.

Then Mike Mayden, a veteran baseball coach and head of the National Urban Professional Baseball League, came along.

So come next spring, Millington will get its own professional baseball team. And the name?

The Millington Cool Papa Bell All-Stars.

“The names of the teams [teams are also being started in Jackson, Miss., and DeSoto and Lancaster, Texas] will mimic the names of Negro League players,” said Mayden.

That’s part of the purpose behind the NUPBL league – to provide chances that Bell never had.

“Today, minority baseball players are not being given a fair opportunity to play on the upper levels of baseball, so that’s why we’ve created this concept to provide that opportunity,” Mayden said.

Millington, he said, was an ideal place to start a league.

“It [Millington’s stadium] was there, and it kind of met our needs, and we reached out to them, and they were receptive. It’s a 5,000-seat stadium with locker rooms and a clubhouse.

“And they welcomed us.”

Millington Mayor Terry Jones said the city was excited about the city having its own professional baseball team. Tryouts will begin in late May, and they will be open to players aged 17 to 21.

Baseball is bigger than just a sport. It’s part of the American story of triumph and progress; of home run records set and racial barriers broken. But right now, young people aren’t being drawn to baseball as much as they were in the past — a predicament that threatens its future.

Yet baseball is still big in small-town America, which Millington exemplifies.

“That’s why we’ve targeted four cities out of the gate, in the South, because there will be more of a reception for what we’re trying to do, and to build a brand and to grow,” Mayden said.

Also, by fielding a professional team in Millington, it creates more than just an opportunity to pique more youths’ interest in baseball.

It also creates an opportunity to reconnect African-American youth with the sport that, with Jackie Robinson breaking the baseball color barrier in 1947 by becoming the first black person to play in the major leagues, sparked the beginning of the end of racial segregation.

While Mayden emphasized that the Cool Papa Bell All-Stars will, in no way, be limited only to black players, the name shows how something born of racial exclusion, the Negro League, can be used to reinvigorate a sport that still rules in red America.

And how together, they can preserve a heritage that speaks to everyone.

CA: Millington baseball team mixes small town, diversity values

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