04/14/05 — Local league rooted in baseball great's legacy

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Local league rooted in baseball great's legacy

By Barbara Arntsen
Published in News on April 14, 2005 1:47 PM

All of the children signing up to play baseball in the Jackie Robinson League may not know exactly who Robinson was, but they're still ready to play ball.

"The younger kids get a little confused about who Jackie Robinson is," said Garry Phifer, the president of the league. "They call me Mr. Robinson and call my wife Mrs. Robinson."

Phifer said that as the players get older, they'll understand exactly who Robinson was and what his contributions to American society were.

In 1947, Robinson became the first black man to play major league baseball in America, fighting the racial prejudice of the day and pioneering the way for black athletes in every sport.

Robinson's journey wasn't easy, and he would later write in his autobiography that he had to fight against loneliness, abuse and "the knowledge that any mistake I made would be magnified because I was the only black man out there."

Last year, Major League Baseball established April 15 as Jackie Robinson Day to honor his memory.

Richard "Rooster" Narron, a Goldsboro businessman and former major league player, began talking with Goldsboro Mayor Al King two years ago about starting a youth baseball league in the area. The two men shared a concern about how baseball had become less popular in the city.

Narron said that traditionally Goldsboro has fielded great baseball teams, but that the game locally had diminished to the point where youths interested in the game didn't have an opportunity to develop their skills.

The two men began talking about the idea to others in the community. A group visited Greenville, where a Jackie Robinson League had been successful, and the Goldsboro league was born.

Baseball is a game that has to be learned early, Narron said, and too many Goldsboro children were not receiving the attention they needed to develop their skills in order to be competitive. The city has plenty of fields on which to play, Narron noted. The problem was getting proper instruction early enough.

"Hopefully, the league will help fill that void," Narron said.

"Now it's season two, our sophomore year," says Phifer, "and I'm still enjoying every minute of it."

About 125 young people signed up last Saturday at a registration at Herman Park, and others will have another chance to register at the De-Rail-A-Bration celebration downtown this weekend.

Phifer said enthusiasm for the league continues to build.

"We have a lot of positive energy from our volunteers," Phifer said. "Even though most of them don't have kids in the age group, they are very excited about working with the league."

This year, organizers put out 3,000 fliers at all the elementary schools in the county and said they have drawn even more children from Goldsboro and surrounding communities, especially the Dudley area.

"We're also seeing a lot of kids from the base coming to participate," Phifer said. "And we're having a lot of repeats from last year."

The league is open to boys and girls between the ages of 5 and 11. Play begins June 4 and runs through July 16.

For more information about the league, parents can call Phifer at 736-3306.