Kids are swinging the bat again at Jim Gilliam Park, in Baldwin Village. After a four-year hiatus, youth baseball is back in the form of T-ball, largely due to an initiative from Councilmen Herb Wesson, the LA Dodger Foundation, and the LAPD’s Southwest Division. Now, the once barren field and stands are full of life, as coaches, parents, and supporters encourage energetic T-Ballers (aged 5-8) to make plays and have fun.
LAPD Senior Officer for Southwest Division, Sunny Sasajima (Back row, right), posses with players and other community supports who unite to coach kids in a new youth baseball program at Jim Gilliam Park. Included in the photo (from left to right) Anthony Beamon, gang intervention and prevention activist, Kimani Black, Deputy, Neighborhood Council, Chris Cowser, retired veteran and community supporter, Shalico Wilson, a Rec Assistant. And gang intervention and prevention activist, and Empowerment Congress West Area Neighborhood Development Council member, Johnnie Raines.
Due to staff changes and community challenges, baseball was placed on hold, according to Senior Rec Director, Denise Stansell. Jim Gilliam Park is nestled in the Baldwin Hills Village, aka the Jungles. The park was named after famed baseball player, James William “Junior” Gilliam, a former standout for the Brooklyn and LA Dodgers, who also become one of the first African American coaches in the major leagues. “There was a concern that there was no baseball program in a park named after a Dodger great,” said Sunny Sasajima, Senior Lead Officer for LAPD’s Southwest Division.
LAPD Senior Officer for Southwest Division, Sunny Sasajima coaches third base as part of a new initiative to build better relations between police and community.
While the LAPD’s presence is vital and brings a sense of security for parents, Sasajima and other participating officers are more than just patrolling officers, they coach. “Sasajima and his colleagues stepped up and helped not only as officers but as dedicated coaches, mentors, and community supporters, ” said volunteer coach, Chris Cowser.
Cowser and other coaches were assembled when approached by Neighborhood Council Deputy, Kimani Black and Empowerment Congress West Area Neighborhood Development Council member, Johnnie Raines.
Shalico Wilson, a Rec Assistant at Jim Gilliam Park and long-time gang prevention / intervention leader, and coach, expressed his sentiment regarding Southwest Division’s involvement. “We could not have accomplished this season without the support of the Southwest Police Department and Johnnie Raines. While the neighborhood may have a reputation for gang violence, Wilson suggests that the area is no different than challenged neighborhoods all over the world. “Gangs are everywhere but if we keep their [young people] mind’s acclimated on positive things, the results will be positive,” he said.
Sergeant, Jim Barlow, Officer in charge of Southwest Community Relations Office, supports a player after scoring a run at Jim Gilliam Park.
51 eager t-ballers signed up for the 8 week summer program that required a twice a week commitment from coaches, officers, and parents. The LAPD accepted the challenge as Sasajima as fellow officers, Jose Saldana, Arturo Gonzales, and Luis Aceves not only coached but also bonded with the people they vow to serve and protect. “We actually were just goofing around and having fun with the kids; it opened up a much better relationship with the community moving forward,” said Sasajima.
According to Sasajima, he and other coaches are discussing creating a traveling league, to allow kids from nearby parks to play each other. “We want to break down the mentality that they have to stay in their neighborhoods,” he said. LAPD’s involvement was less about being police officers and more about coaching and interacting with community. We embrace the sport and welcome the addition to our programs”, said Stansell. And at the end of the day, it was t-ball, with all the imperfect throws, catches, slides and cheers that come with it. But most importantly, the kids are swinging the bats again and there is baseball at Jim Gilliam Park.
LAPD Senior Officer for Southwest Division, Sunny Sasajima (left) and Jim Gilliam Park Rec Assistant, Shalico Wilson, pass out trophies and awards to T-ball players.