As the Traveling Squirrels battled the Altoona Curve at The Diamond on Friday night time, a white No. 42 was emblazoned on the grass driving residence plate.
It was a recognition of Jackie Robinson Day, with this 12 months of the annual celebration a exclusive one particular in particular — the 75th anniversary of Robinson’s significant league debut, when he grew to become the very first Black MLB participant in the modern day period.
But also, throughout the diamond — involving first and second foundation — the No. 9 was drawn in the infield dirt, too. That amount, even though not as traditionally distinctive as Robinson’s 42, which has been retired across the majors due to the fact 1997, carries dual meaning.
9 was the selection that Robinson wore in his lone slight league year in 1946 with the Triple-A Montreal Royals, in advance of he made his MLB debut on April 15, 1947. And it was also the inspiration for the name of a new MiLB initiative — released this 12 months and dubbed “The 9.” It is a nationwide system for outreach to the Black group all around baseball.
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According to MiLB, The 9 is “designed to honor and rejoice the historic impact numerous Black baseball pioneers designed on the activity, present new chances for youth baseball and softball participation, further diversify the business of baseball and embrace millions of passionate enthusiasts all over MiLB’s 120 communities nationwide.”
And the Traveling Squirrels were picked as one of MiLB’s five “team captains” for the initiative, mainly because of the franchise’s heritage of hoping to increase diversity in the sport and mainly because of the metropolis of Richmond itself, and the Flying Squirrels’ need to be aspect of improve in the town.
And, for the franchise, each present and blossoming initiatives will contact its involvement with the mission of The Nine.
“It’s not any singular factor that we’re executing,” stated Todd “Parney” Parnell, the Flying Squirrels’ chief procedure officer, on Friday afternoon. “The Nine is going to grow to be section of who we are on an daily foundation.”
The 9 software was announced Feb. 1, but it is anything Parnell explained that Kurt Hunzeker, MLB’s vice president for insignificant league business enterprise operations, has labored on for a though.
Black representation in MLB has declined sharply above the earlier 30 decades. Black players built up a large of 18.7% of the league in 1981, according to the Modern society for American Baseball Exploration. But, right now, that number is just 7.2%, according to MLB.com.
The February announcement marked a dawning of the plan, and groups around the sport are beginning to set up their respective attempts.
In Richmond, just one initiative linked to The 9 will tie into Traveling Squirrels Charities. The Flying Squirrels have labored with the Metropolitan Junior Baseball League for the length of their 13 yrs in the metropolis — MJBL was introduced in 1966 soon after founder Dr. William M.T. Forrester’s son was not allowed to perform in several all white Minor League systems. It’s deemed a single of the oldest Black-owned interior-town youth baseball leagues in the country.
But now, MJBL is performing with the Richmond Police Athletic League to produce focused baseball leagues inside public housing communities in the town. And revenue lifted as a result of the Traveling Squirrels Charities’ golfing tournament on May perhaps 9 will be used to get jerseys for the league.
“I think around time, that’s wherever we’ll see the most affect with The 9,” Parnell explained, of a league like the a single that the MJBL and PAL are scheduling.
Also, in partnership with VCU’s Centre for Activity Leadership, the Traveling Squirrels held a employed glove generate for the MJBL on Friday.
In other places, whilst not right connected to The Nine — but connected to the kind of function the method will test to foster across the region — is the Traveling Squirrels’ partnerships with HBCUs in the area. The club commenced an govt instruction application with Virginia Condition College very last year, which is aimed to groom selected learners to turn into complete-time club workforce. Flying Squirrels group hospitality supervisor Carnie Bragg arrived from the application.
“I imagine we’re recognized as 1 of the franchises, one of the ownership groups, who are striving to alter what minor league baseball seems like,” Parnell reported. “This has been my existence for 33 decades. When I depart this, any time that is, I want front places of work throughout America to glimpse distinct.”
The Flying Squirrels are developing a partnership with Virginia Union University as perfectly, tied in aspect to its Richmond 34 Legacy Weekend, which debuted final calendar year. The club moved the weekend from July to September this yr, when lessons are in session, to make it possible for for extra pupil involvement.
The Nine plan is not a a person-12 months drive, but will be ongoing. And the Traveling Squirrels’ involvement will carry on to unfold in a lot more, diverse strategies around time.
It is applying Robinson’s legacy for action.
“We’re putting devices and courses in location the place as an alternative of just expressing, ‘We want to change,’ we’re generating that transform,” Parnell reported. “And I think, to me, that’s the greatest big difference in how we’re heading about it now and how we see the progress that we’re building.”