Photos by Sean “Pharoah” Terry
The continued thrill of the run being made by the Jackie Robinson West All-Stars, representing Chicago at large in the Little League World Series, is being felt city-wide, but the epicenter of activity supporting the young phenoms of the diamond takes place in the Morgan Park neighborhood in the city’s far South Side and at the park where the Jackie Robinson West Little League got its name from.
For each game JRW has played at the Little League World Series, large viewing parties have been held at Jackie Robinson Park and as long as the run goes, the party will, even if it has to head inside for a night.
Monday, as JRW held off Rhode Island, Regal’s own Sean Terry — a resident of Morgan Park — took some photos of the scene around this celebration. Tonight — in a confluence of the World Series’ two biggest story lines — JRW will square off with Philadelphia and the incredible Mo’Ne Davis, with both teams’ lives on the line, the winner advances to face Las Vegas in Saturday’s United States Championship game.
Its already assured that Davis’ name will live on longest from this year’s tournament, but there’s still an opportunity for JRW to make a lasting historical impact as a rare all-black Little League team to end a season as champions. Regardless of how far they continue on, this team will still be held up for a long time as Chicago legends. Terry offers more on that potential lasting legacy:
The month of August typically signals the start of the summer swan song — a gift and a curse in many ways for Chicago. Painful in the regard of seeing the few warm weather days a year we actually get to enjoy fade away once again, joyous in the belief that with the colder weather comes a slight decrease in inner city crime and street violence.
This double-edge sword rings especially true on the South Side, but in recent weeks community-wide we’ve been witness to a transformation in the rediscovery of the beauty of baseball and a reborn culture of calm and positivity — at least in one one pocket — thanks in large part to the upward climb of success being realized by the young men from Jackie Robinson West in this year’s Little League World Series.
But beyond the impressive nature their success in the double elimination baseball tournament has had is the impact this team is having on the community — my community. Morgan Park is a hidden gem “out south,” found deep in the heart of the wild hundreds, pocketed off but benefiting from the cultural influence of long-held institutions like Jackie Robinson West.
For these boys and the community they represent, Jackie Robinson Park stands as hallowed ground and a neutral turf where many can come to join together. Its not to say the community doesn’t have its issues, there are some but the park and JRW represent one of the few areas in the community where a ball player can go and refine his game while not having to look over his or her shoulder.
Trek a few blocks east or west off 107th and Sangamon and the harder realities of our side of town could slap you silly, but with this year’s growing success of the JRW story comes an interesting twist, as Jackie Robinson Park has evolved into one part baseball sanctum and one part community jubilee.
Since blasting thru the Great Lakes regional, an act that itself was worthy of celebrating since last year’s team fell painfully in that regional final, JRW’s confidence has grown lock step with the community support that has swelled behind them even with the separation of several states between most of their fervent fan base.
A Community Swings Back…
It’s been quite a few years since I’ve witnessed this type of community unification in Morgan Park. We often love a good excuse to pull out the grills and coolers around here, but seeing this movement up close and personal and seeing the manner in which inter-generations of residents have celebrated in peace makes me believe this cause is real, it is just, it is organic and it is something that could lead to the start of something old becoming new again.
Having grown up in the community and having played in JRW as a child some 20 years ago, I recall my years marching in the JRW parade — a one-mile trek along Halsted Avenue that yielded tons of community support, starting somewhere around 115th street and ending in the park with the same type of community celebration that we’ve witnessed every time these young men have played in this year’s LLWS.
Many moons have cycled since I played in JRW and in that time the Halsted Avenue parade has since disappeared. There is no reason we can’t change back to the season-long reveille that Little League and baseball at large can provide, we may be all the better for it.
Baseball is truly American, it has come to symbolize and/or stand along side some of the best, and at times the worst, moments in our country’s history. Certainly for me, this year’s JRW story has been a counter-weight to the police blotter readings recapping bloody Chicago weekends and the continuing developments from the story down in Ferguson.
Leaders in the Making
JRW, you got the community riding behind you, young men. Whether you realize it or not, your names alone and the success you’ve attained thus far all pay homage to our heritage and our community. We thank you for the ride and we wish you the best of luck on its continued success. We also thank you for the culture of calm you’ve helped bestow in our community.
A funny thing happened to me Tuesday night. While watching the victory against Texas and later enjoying a nice cold beer in celebration, I realized the true calm of an evening without the blare of police sirens for the first time in as long as I can remember.
Whether they are eventually crowned LLWS champions or not, you guys have already won. That win itself is worthy of a victory parade in the eyes of many, including this proud resident of Morgan Park.
Sean Terry is a co-founder of Regal Radio and co-hosts “The Varsity Show,” which you can follow on Twitter @varsityshow1 or follow Sean himself @craftbeersochi.