Gavin Dickey stuck with baseball even while his friends gave up
on the sport. Now, as the starting left fielder during Florida's
run to the championship round of the College World Series, he's
part of an ever-dwindling minority.
He's a black college baseball player.
"Growing up, a lot of my friends opted for other sports, like
football or basketball, the bigger crowds, the more spotlight
sports," said Dickey, who also serves as the backup quarterback
for the football Gators."I loved the game of baseball growing up.
It was always fun to me, and it's a challenge."
Perhaps the biggest challenge was simply making it as far as he
did. In 2003-04 the most recent data compiled by the NCAA only
6 percent of the nearly 9,800 Division I baseball players were
black, compared to 25 percent in all sports combined. Whites made
up 84 percent of the baseball rosters.
And the total number of black baseball players has fallen from a
five-year high of 649 in 2001-02 to 598 last year.
"It's sad, because I remember when I was this age, there were a
lot of guys getting opportunities to go," said Harold Reynolds, a
two-time All-Star during his 12-year career in the majors and
currently an analyst for ESPN's baseball coverage.
As expected, basketball and football are much more equitable.
Half of the men's and women's basketball players were black, and 44
percent of the football players.
"I think it's a reflection of the fact that there aren't any
African-Americans at the lower levels of baseball," said Richard
Lapchick, the director of the Institute for Diversity and Ethics in
Sports at the University of Central Florida."If baseball is going
to be seen as the national pastime, you would hope it would reflect
the diversity of the country."
According to Lapchick, the number of black players in the majors
this season is down to 9 percent, the lowest figure since the late
Major League Baseball spends about $3 million a year on several
programs to draw minorities to the game, including Rookie League
and Reviving Baseball in Inner Cities (RBI). It also helped build a
Youth Baseball Academy in Compton, Calif., and assisted the Braves
in constructing a similar facility in Atlanta.
All this appears to be working, at least for professional
baseball. This season, a record 31 RBI participants were selected
in the amateur draft, including top pick Justin Upton from
Chesapeake, Va. That's up from 22 last year, and the total since
RBI started 16 years ago is close to 150.
But, so far, it hasn't done much for the colleges. Arizona
State, Oregon State and Texas all made the College World Series
this season without a single black player on their rosters.
"It's something very important to me," said Florida coach Pat
McMahon."It's important to me that each and every young man has
an opportunity to play."
Reynolds played at Long Beach State before getting drafted in
1980 by the Seattle Mariners, and he clearly is passionate about
this issue. He blames the lack of scholarships — Division I teams
are limited to 11.7 total for their rosters — and the proliferation
of suburban-based travel teams around the country, where some play
in as many as 65 games over the summer.
And he also wonders if the culture has changed.
"When I was a kid, everybody was playing all the sports,"
Reynolds said."You got coaches now who say if you want to play on
my high school basketball team, you've got to play basketball in
the summer. Now you're cutting out the kids' options to play
That even includes historically black colleges and universities.
This season, North Carolina A&T won the Mid-Eastern Athletic
Conference championship and advanced to the NCAA tournament for the
first time, all with about half of its roster made up of whites.
The Aggies' coach, Keith Shumate, who also is white, was
selected as coach of the year by Black College Baseball, a Web site
devoted to schools such as A&T.
"By now, I'm not surprised by it," Shumate said."I guess
most of our recruiting has been done in North Carolina, and as I go
across the state, blacks are just not playing. It's made baseball
look like some type of country club sport, which it should not
He gives some of the blame to the scholarship restrictions,
since most teams don't have enough full rides to fill out a
"When I go into a house and speak to a family, and I tell them
I can give them a 20 percent or 30 percent scholarship, that
doesn't settle well when a football coach comes right after me and
tells them he can pay all the bills," Shumate said."The NCAA
gets their share of blame, too."
NCAA officials did not immediately respond to an interview
There also is a lack of black coaches at the Division I level,
much like other sports. Last year, according to the NCAA, only 4
percent of the 763 head baseball coaches were black, and when the
black institutions were excluded, that figure drops to less than 1
During his eight seasons with the Aggies, Shumate never has had
a paid assistant, but the school finally agreed to give him one
next season. He already has decided to hire one of his former
volunteer coaches, who is black.
"That is very important to me," Shumate said.
No matter what the solution is, Reynolds hopes it comes fast.
"There has to be not just an opportunity to say, 'Hey, we're
going to try to create a way for guys to play baseball,"' he said.
"We're going to try to create ways for guys to get scholarships if
they want to continue on. That's where it has to be at."