Wright: JRW could draw city kids to baseball

CHICAGO -- In the mind of Chicago Cubs reliever Wesley Wright, Jackie Robinson West has already won on Sunday. And that’s before they take on South Korea in the Little League World Series Championship.

“I’m already proud of these guys,” Wright said Sunday morning. “Winning today is a side note.”

He echoes how the rest of the team and undoubtedly the city of Chicago feels as JRW has put inner-city baseball in the spotlight. It’s especially important for the future of the game with African-American kids.

“The success they’ve had this season is going to up the enrollment,” Wright believes. “People want to be a part of something good. They see the exposure they’ve gotten, they’ve become celebrities. Kids like that. And it’s good to see kids at a young age have an appreciation for baseball.”

Wright is hoping Chicago, and baseball in general, looks at teams like Jackie Robinson, and the inner-city Philadelphia team they beat to reach the US finals, as trailblazers. It’s well documented that African-Americans aren’t playing baseball as much as other sports and that’s showing up in the numbers at the major league levels. They’ve been trending downward for years.

“Popularity of the other sports and how year-round the other sports have become,” Wright cites as reasons for kids leaving baseball. “Like AAU basketball and 7-on-7 football in the summer. Other sports have made themselves year-round. You really can’t do that with baseball in many cities.

“We miss a lot of months that we end up losing kids to other sports.”

And baseball has become more expensive -- from equipment to field maintenance to travel costs. It’s a reason Wright and former Cub LaTroy Hawkins, among others, helped the families of Jackie Robinson West to attend the World Series.

“It was a no-brainer,” Wright said. “It was something we wanted to do to allow the families to enjoy the time together.”

Sunday’s game is important, but the journey to get there is the real story, according to Wright. He’ll have an eye on the game while the Cubs take on the Baltimore Orioles, but after Saturday’s underdog win over Las Vegas the rest is just gravy.

“They showed incredible poise to come back and hold on, showed a lot of guts,” Wright said. “It’s given me a renewed pride in the game I play.”