By Javacia Harris Bowser
For the Birmingham Times
Birmingham baseball coach Prince Mosley is all about levels.
“If you can’t help a kid get to the next level, why coach?” he asked.
Mosley recently took his Titusville 10-and-under (10U) team to the next level when they captured the championship of the Piper Davis Baseball Inner-City National Tournament in July. The Titusville Knights went into the tournament, which also included international teams, undefeated at 18-0. To snag their first championship they played teams from Fairfield, Ala., and the Bahamas. In the final game, they beat Pleasant Grove 15-4.
“I was never in doubt that we could win,” Mosley said of his team. “I’m not just coaching to be coaching. It’s not about me. It’s about these kids.”
This year’s tournament included 34 teams from across the U.S., including Michigan, Nevada, Georgia, Florida, Maryland, and North Carolina, as well as teams from the Caribbean. Mosley’s dream for his top players is get them to the highest level, Major League Baseball (MLB), but the numbers of African-American players in the big leagues and even in youth leagues are dwindling.
Just last year Forbes magazine published an article asking, “Why have African American players disappeared in MLB?” The report noted that in 1981, 18.7 percent of MLB players and 22 percent of All-Star game rosters were African American. On opening day in 2018, however, African American players made up just 8.4 percent of the league and last year’s All-Star rosters were less than 5 percent African American.
That could be due to an overall decline in the number of all youth playing baseball. For example, the number of players in the Southeast Region of Little League is down 43 percent since 2007, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported earlier this year. As Little League has declined, travel baseball, which is significantly more expensive, has grown. Many youth leagues and teams have shut down or merged, limiting access for inner-city kids.
Mosley, 50, knows what baseball can do for a young child. He remembers when he took up the game at age 7 under the legendary coach Fred Plump, founder of the Piper Davis Youth Baseball League in Birmingham.
“He made us believe that baseball was a sport for everybody, not just for the white kids,” Mosley said of Plump. “I’ve been loving baseball ever since.”
Eventually, Mosley followed in Plump’s footsteps and began coaching. Mosley, who also has coached football and currently also coaches basketball in Titusville, started the baseball program in Titusville in 2010. Though his teams are based in Titusville, Mosley recruits athletes from neighborhoods throughout the city and beyond, including Forestdale, Ensley, Adamsville, Central Park, Center Point, Pelham, and Bessemer.
Mosley said he sometimes talks to his teams about celebrated black baseball players like National Baseball Hall of Fame inductees Willie Mays and Reggie Jackson, and Birmingham’s own Bo Jackson, the baseball and football giant out of Auburn University.
“I say, ‘One of y’all are going to be just like them one of these days,’” Mosley said, adding that he knows most black youth in sports are being pushed to aspire to greatness in basketball or football instead.
“Growing up in black neighborhoods, baseball is kind of lost,” he said. “They always put a basketball in our hand. They never gave us a glove. In black neighborhoods, you don’t hear about baseball. Kids don’t see enough baseball. They see basketball and football all the time.”
“Learn the Game”
Plump, 72, changed that for Mosley.
“He [Plump] was letting us know that we are somebody,” Mosley said. “He would say, ‘Learn the game of baseball. It will get you somewhere one day.’”
Plump founded the Piper Davis Youth Baseball League in Birmingham in 1992, specifically to bring baseball back to urban neighborhoods.
“Baseball was slowly drifting out of black neighborhoods, and black faces in the major league were fading away.”
The Piper Davis League was established to provide a safe space and an affordable program for inner-city youth to learn the fundamentals of the game. The league is named for Lorenzo “Piper” Davis, a Negro League Baseball trailblazer who played for the Birmingham Black Barons.
Baseball gives young players skills that they can use on and off the field, Plump said.
“Baseball is a sport where you have to be disciplined,” he explained. “You have to stand and wait for the pitch. If you’re playing the outfield, you have to sit there and wait, hoping a ball is hit your way. Without discipline, you wouldn’t be able to do it. You can take that and carry it into the classroom.”
That message is not lost on some of Mosley’s players, like 10-year-old Kamari Bell, who Mosley considers his star pitcher.
“He got us in the winner’s circle,” Mosley said of Bell, who also plays football and basketball.
Bell has dreams of playing MLB one day.
“It’s a good sport because you can get a lot of money,” Bell said.
He’s right. MLB player salaries range from $550,000 to $35 million, according to the USA Today Sports annual MLB salary survey, and most players have long careers and guaranteed contracts.
For now, Bell just enjoys playing the game, with his mother, Shonica Thomas, in the dugout cheering him on.
“I’ve seen a lot of growth,” Thomas said of her son. “He’s only been playing for three years, but he plays like he’s been playing since he was 4 [years old]. He’s going to go a long way. I’m going to make sure of that.”
Winning isn’t new for Mosley—his Titusville football team won championships in 2008 and 2009—but he said his Titusville 10U team is special.
“There’s just something about this team,” he said. “The kids on this team and the parents, they were all in.”
That level of dedication helped them bring home the tournament trophy, Mosely said: “I’ve been a part of a lot of championship teams, but these kids—I won’t ever forget them.”
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