Today’s podcast guest has dedicated his life’s work to helping to bridge the gap that separates minorities from the prototypical American youth baseball experience.
It’s easy to make the case that no one in the Boston area has made a bigger impact on Black and Latino youth baseball players than Robert Lewis Jr. In 2013, Lewis founded The BASE, an organization that leverages the power and passion of baseball to help student athletes find pathways to success both on and off the field.
The BASE in Roxbury, Mass., serves over 1,500 youth annually. Since 2013, the organization has helped student-athletes earn $45 million in scholarships and financial aid.
Lewis makes the case that for baseball to grow in America, it first has to grow in urban, inner-city neighborhoods.
“If I was going to recommend something to colleges and (people in) Major League Baseball, it’s this,” Lewis said. “When you start thinking about your next fan base, it’s not just what’s on the field. Your next fan base is the shift that America is going through. You start thinking about Spanish-speaking communities and Latinos being one of the fastest-growing populations. I would say to Major League Baseball, you owe it to reach out into urban neighborhoods. It’s not just about who’s going to play on your team. You have an incredible fan base that we need to reach out to.”
Lewis started an urban baseball team, the Boston Astros, in 1978 and has since incorporated that program into The BASE. He tells a story on the podcast about taking his team of mostly Black and Latinx players to a tournament in Virginia. A group of opposing players and their fans began chanting, “Where’s your green card?” to Lewis’ team of mostly Spanish-speaking players.
“About 15 years ago, nobody was used to seeing a Black and Latino team,” Lewis said. “We were the only one. At first, it was like, ‘Here’s that inner-city team.
“I will be honest, we’ve heard the N-word plenty of times,” Lewis said. “The whole idea of, ‘Where’s your green card?’ … It went on for two innings. The parents … nobody stopped it. So, I just walked out on the field and said to the umpires, ‘Please,’ right? There were parents on the other team yelling at me to get back in the dugout. I never talked to the parents or anything. But I did pause when I was on the mound, talking to the umpire. All I could do is go to the dugout and tell our team, ‘We will not stop. We will not stop because of that.’ We ended up winning 14-2.”
Lewis’s mission behind starting The BASE was to create an environment for urban youth in which the staff and student-athletes all focus on what they CAN do rather than the obstacles standing in their way.
“We made a conscious commitment that we were going to be about change,” Lewis said. “Our kids live in a world every day, they’re fighting for their lives and the lives of others. It’s difficult. But these are some of the things that our young folks are going to have to go through if they’re going to be successful. We just made a conscious decision to work and work. With the help of our sponsors, we have a $5 million facility in Roxbury, a state-of-the-art facility. We built an educational institution here. It started as a sports program, and now what do we have? We’re building a talent pipeline. Sports are great. But all of the sudden, our young folks are going to some of the top colleges and graduating.”
Listen to the entire podcast with Robert Lewis Jr.
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