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Black Players Continued a Mentoring Tradition Amid a Pandemic

“When this year’s minor league season was canceled, several veteran African-American M.L.B. players got on Instagram and set up Zoom calls to pay forward the guidance they received.

Early in his major league career, Curtis Granderson never went hungry around Dmitri Young, particularly in Kansas City, Mo.

Whenever the Detroit Tigers traveled there, Young, one of the elder Black players on the team, would invite his younger Black teammates — outfielders Nook Logan, Marcus Thames, Craig Monroe and Granderson — to his hotel suite to enjoy a catered buffet usually made up of macaroni and cheese, cornbread, collard greens and barbecued meats. They would fill their bellies, laugh and talk about life and baseball for hours.

“We’d all just be hanging out and fighting over the last piece of oxtail,” Granderson recalled recently. Added Young: “That good old soul food.”

Without realizing it at the time, Granderson was participating in an unofficial tradition that has been handed down through generations in the sport: The older Black players are responsible for looking out for the younger ones.

It has often involved gifts or meals, but those simply provide opportunities to get together, to offer support and to make the newbies feel welcome in a sport where the presence of African-American players has shrunk over the past several decades, to just 8 percent of the major leagues this season. Just one Black American player — Mookie Betts of the Los Angeles Dodgers — is playing in this year’s World Series.

“Man, that’s ridiculous,” said Young, 47, who last played in the majors in 2008 and is now the head baseball coach at Camarillo High in California. “For the history of the game, it dwindles down to this.”

This year complicated the pay-it-forward practice. When the coronavirus pandemic wiped out the 2020 minor league season, recently drafted Black players’ orientation into professional baseball was put on hold as they missed out on the camaraderie of a clubhouse.”

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