PUT US IN COACH: Players form the Compton Little League stand on the newly refurbished diamond at Serbie Park, a place that hasnt seen organzied baseball in 30 years.Â
Compton kids get to play ball again
For the first time in 30 years, Sebrie Park in Compton hosted a Little League game and after last week’s opening games, it’s felt like it never left.
One glance at the season debut and it felt like a normal spring evening on the corner of 120th St. and Compton Blvd. There were coaches shouting encouragement from the dugout, players spreading chatter on the field and parents giving advice behind the cages.
The only difference was that this scene had been missing at this park for three decades, as with other parks around the city with the Compton Little League folding in 2000. But thanks to aid from Angels centerfielder Torii Hunter and several major leaguers, the Urban Youth Academy and Mayor Eric Perrodin, baseball is back in a city rich with history.
The league held its grand opening on April 18 at the Urban Youth Academy, which drew 300-400 people, and Sebrie Park hosted its first game on April 24. The 12-team league with players aged 5-16 will hold its games on Tuesday and Thursday evenings and Saturday mornings at Sebrie Park, Gonzalez Park, Burrell Park, Compton College and Kelly Park.
“It’s just like it used to be,” Luther Keith, Jr. said after the first game. “We’re just blessed to have baseball back”
It was Keith, the softball coach at Locke High School and current manager of the 10-11 year old team, and Tim Lewis who first hatched the idea of bringing back the league last December. They presented their proposal to Mayor Perrodin in January and gained his support along with City Councilwoman Barbara Calhoun and other officials.
Compton Parks and Recreation and the Urban Youth Academy also got on board and that prompted Hunter, Ken Griffey Jr., David Ortiz, Gary Sheffield and others to donate $10,000 for uniforms and equipment.
It’s a legacy of donations that first started in 1961, when local gas station owner Billy J. Hooper provided uniforms for the players. Hooper was one of the first Black businessmen to support the Compton Little League.
Since his days with the Minnesota Twins, Hunter has been vocal about the lack of Black players in baseball as well as the lack of resources made available in inner-city communities. When he heard about the Little League needing donations, he responded without hesitation.
In addition, he has committed to visit the league when he can over the coming months.
The five sites have become a new field of dreams for a city that has undergone a makeover the past few years. And with the news the percentage of Black players in baseball rose to a 13-year high of 10.2 percent last season, there is hope that future players will be cultivated in a city that has produced its fair share of players.
Players that came from Compton include Dodgers Ken Landreaux and Reggie Smith, Hubie Brooks, Lenny Randle, Troy O’Leary and Hall of Famers Eddie Murray and Duke Snider.
Landreaux, Smith, Brooks and Randle all played at Sebrie Park along with hundreds of others during its tenure. Keith reminisced that if the League was around at the park during the 1980’s and 1990’s, there’s no telling how many more future college or pro baseball players might have been produced or aided.
“If Compton baseball had been a force, we’d be competing with everybody else,” he said.
The buzz surrounding the leagues has brought out former players and residents from as far as Encino, Lancaster and Riverside. As soon as they heard the Little League was back, they made the trek to support the next generation of players as well as share stories of their past.
“People who played here in the 1950’s have come back,” Keith said excitedly.
With summer vacation on the horizon, it’s a boost that kids can once again look forward to playing a game that will allow them to dream big as well as give life to a community ready to once again come together on a baseball field.