As the city of Chicago celebrated its Little League U.S. champions, Chicago Cubs president Theo Epstein said Wednesday that Jackie Robinson West's success should be a "rallying cry" to bring more inner city kids back to baseball.
"At industry meetings and at the Cubs, we always get together in boardrooms and suits and sit around and talk about how we can get kids playing baseball again and especially in the inner cities," Epstein said on "The Carmen & Jurko Show" on ESPN Chicago 1000. "We throw money behind it, and we give our time, but nothing we can do can match the inspiration that these kids set out. It's just really a watershed moment I think because the way these kids played the game and the attention they are getting has a chance to make baseball cool again for young kids.
"The Jackie Robinson West program is not just a two-week phenomenon. We supported them for three years since I got to Chicago, but for decades and decades they have been impacting thousands of kids."
JRW, which was the first team from Chicago to reach the Little League World Series since 1983, defeated Nevada on Saturday to win the U.S. championship and then lost to South Korea on Sunday for the world title. They returned to Chicago as local heroes with their hometown throwing them a parade Wednesday, capped off by a rally at Millennium Park.
Baseball is still a financial success, but Epstein said the demographics of the game are disturbing.
"There's a bit of a dichotomy because the economics of the game are really good right now as an $8, $9 billion industry, but if you look at the demographics, they're terrible," said Epstein, who congratulated JRW on stage at the rally Wednesday. "We're losing young kids, especially young kids in the inner cities, and there just aren't enough kids playing baseball these days. I think that's the No. 1 priority of Major League Baseball going forward. I think we recognize it, but it's an easier problem to talk about than it is to solve.
"I do think this is a bit of a watershed moment because look who's rallying around this team. The entire community, major league players, front offices, the entire city of Chicago, so it's all of our responsibility to make sure that this doesn't fade away."