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Monday, April 08, 2013

A Chance to Win


Much to the chagrin of Major League Baseball and baseball coaches at every level, the sport has pretty much been abandoned by the black youth of America's inner cities.  This is not a new problem, and Major League executives have thrown a lot of money at the problem in recent years by building youth ballparks and providing equipment to teams willing to give the sport a shot. 

But, as Jonathan Schuppe points out in A Chance to Win, largely due to peer pressure, black kids are still reluctant to take up the game.  They consider it a "white" sport and by huge margins give their attention to basketball and football instead.  Schuppe points out, too, that baseball is a sport whose skills are most often passed on directly from father to son.  This is a huge handicap in an environment in which fathers are, more often than not, not living in the same home as their children - and are unlikely to have learned the game from their own fathers, in the first place.

Rodney Mason, a Newark kid now in his forties, knew early on that he was good at baseball.  He was a prized pitcher on his high school team, and had the potential to parley his baseball skills into a bright future for himself.  Unfortunately, Rodney was also pretty good at dealing drugs from a local street corner - but, as Rodney would eventually learn, a "pretty good" drug dealer does not stay out of trouble forever. 

Although Rodney's drug dealing always did have the potential for  getting him killed, his undoing actually came at the hands of a rival who targeted Rodney for a drive-by shooting because of their dispute over a woman.  Rodney survived the shooting but woke up paralyzed from the waist down.  His baseball-playing days might have been over - but Rodney was soon back out on the street dealing drugs from his wheelchair. 

Jonathan Schuppe
Then, when the city of Newark decided to clean up the old ball field across the street from Rodney's apartment, he decided to get involved.  He hoped that baseball, the only thing he was ever exceptional at in his life, could save him before it was too late.  He hoped to use baseball to save a few of the neighborhood kids from the street life that had crippled him - and in the process to turn his own life around.  But it would not be easy - and A Chance to Win explains why.

Over the course of a couple of seasons, the book closely follows "Coach Rock," two of his better players, and the father of two other players as they struggle mightily to turn their hopes into reality.  For all of them, it turns out to be a case of "two steps forward and one step back."  Life might be stacked against the Newark Eagles, but baseball gives them a chance to make the most of their potential rather than simply succumbing to the city's street life.  Theirs is a touching story with a message of hope.  Baseball is their "chance to win."

(Review Copy provided by Publisher)
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