CONNECTING STUDENT ATHLETES WITH COLLEGE COACHES
LITHONIA, Ga. — Football and basketball devoured Trey Griffin’s baseball team over two seasons. The players were 11 and 12 years old, playing out of Gresham Park in south DeKalb County, a predominantly African-American enclave of youth baseball in metropolitan Atlanta. The middle-school football teams lured the fastest and the strongest. The middle-school and summer-league basketball teams grabbed the tallest and the quickest.
Baseball was left in exile.
“The team just fell apart,” said Griffin, a senior at Martin Luther King High School, and the DeKalb County player of the year. “This guy is playing football, that guy is playing basketball. Out of the whole team, maybe there are three guys who played just baseball.
“The coaches and other kids tried to get me to play football, but when I brought home football equipment, my father took it back the next day.”
Griffin, a right fielder, challenges the trend of African-American athletes who migrate to football and basketball as they approach their teenage years. The Institute for Diversity and Ethics in Sport at the University of Central Florida released a study April 29 that found that 9.1 percent of players on major league opening day rosters were black, down from 10.2 in 2008, but up slightly from 9 percent in 2009. Richard Lapchick, the institute director, said the number of blacks in baseball in the late 1970s and early 1980s peaked at about 26 percent.
Griffin will not be a high draft pick in the first-year player draft, which begins Monday, but Baseball America projects him to be drafted in the first 10 rounds. He is a muscular 6 feet 3 ½ inches and has a strong arm, attributes that would have served him well in football as a wide receiver or quarterback.
And yet for reasons that seem to range from personal preference to family support to a precedent set by an older brother, Griffin has stuck with baseball.
“When we would throw the football around, he makes one-handed catches, and he could throw it long,” said Mack Brown, Griffin’s classmate and a standout high school running back who signed with the University of Florida. “We had a good team last year, but we could have used another athlete like him.”
For the most part, Griffin’s parents, Ted Griffin and Sandra Drinks-Griffin, resisted pleas from coaches and other players to have their son play football. They also found their way around other barriers that could have detoured their son from baseball.
“A lot of parents here give up on children in baseball because they cannot afford it,” said Ted Griffin, an electrician. “They could not take the risk financially to see if their child had a future in the sport. Football and basketball coaches, on the other hand, find a way to get a kid what he needs.
“When they turn 12 or 13, they hand these kids a football and say run with it,” he added.
For their son, the Griffins found travel baseball teams in the mostly white, northern suburbs of Atlanta. The Griffins’ basement went unfinished, the dining room went without a chandelier and there were yard sales to raise money to pay for the exclusive teams that traveled and played 100 games in the summer. Still, Trey Griffin said the pressure was always on him and his friends to put on football pads.
“People always asked why I wasn’t playing football,” he said.
The Griffins shunned football not only because their son had talent for baseball, but also because his grades dropped in the ninth grade, the one season he did play that sport. They finally pulled him from the team.
“The coaches said we can make him a quarterback, we can make him a wide receiver, and I said not with these grades,” Drinks-Griffin said. “He was caught up in the sound of the crowd and spending too much time trying to learn plays.”
Ted Griffin’s oldest son by another marriage, Xavier Avery, was offered a football scholarship to the University of Georgia, but turned it down when he was picked in the second round of the 2008 draft by the Baltimore Orioles.
Ted Griffin said Xavier played 96 games one summer with a travel team to sharpen his skills in baseball.
The baseball coaches at Martin Luther King High have their own view on why baseball is not thriving among their students. Sean Brinkley, a co-head coach, said baseball did not come quite as easy as football or basketball for many kids and that some walked away.
“In this area, the football players have lost their interest in baseball because baseball is too hard,” Brinkley said. “The sport has been minimized because it takes so much work in the summer, the fall and during the season. They don’t understand you need to go to the cage every day and swing the bat 200 times. It’s rigorous.”
Carlos Howard, the other co-head coach, added: “We had a great athlete here, who played football and basketball, and he came out here and worked hard, and couldn’t hack it in baseball. Some of these kids don’t understand there is more money in baseball than the other sports and you can get paid quickly.”
The Griffins understand and invested as much money as they could, and even if the draft does not go as planned, their son will have something to fall back on — a baseball scholarship to Oklahoma State.
The cost of youth baseball, the abandoning of the sport by other African-Americans, did not discourage them.
“The talent level here is so high for football that we have a lot of guys go play college, so there is a lot of football hype,” Trey Griffin said. “But I love baseball.”
Original Article: http://www.nytimes.com/2010/06/07/sports/baseball/07griffin.html