By Ben Friedl
High school baseball in urban-areas often doesn’t get the recognition it deserves. The GEICO Baseball City Series, a new all-star baseball tournament held in Chicago, Illinois with teams representing Chicago, New York, Miami, and Los Angeles, is on a mission to change that.
“We want to give inner-cities a chance to showcase themselves, have a chance to be on television, and give them a sense of pride that they’re playing for their city,” said GEICO City Series executive director Rashid Ghazi.
Ghazi has experience with broadcasting high school sports showcases. He was heavily involved with televising LeBron’s first ever game on ESPN, and hopes this event, which was broadcast live on ESPNU, can spark popularity for nationally televised high school baseball.
“Local news and newspapers have really put all their resources into covering football and basketball,” said Ghazi. “But with the growth of social media, high school baseball has a tremendous opportunity to grow.”
Also, while national sports media outlets such as ESPN and FOX have been broadcasting high school basketball and football high school showcase games to national audiences since the early 2000’s, high school baseball has yet to be given the same platform.
Media outlets such as Baseball Prospectus and Baseball America cover high school baseball extensively, while each also have large social media followings. And while the Little League world series is broadcast by ESPN every year, City Series coaches realize that in the modern-day sports media landscape, TV time for high school baseball can be hard to come by.
“It’s why some kids don’t want to play baseball anymore,” New York coach Elvis Valdez said.
To combat inner-city disinterest, Major League Baseball’s Urban Youth Baseball Academy and Reviving Baseball in Inner Cities (RBI) programs are striving to provide state of-the-art facilities in urban areas across the country. Regardless of whether these initiatives prove to be successful, media coverage of inner-city high school baseball remains minimal.
“Even just a small newspaper excerpt,” New York coach Ramon Canela said. “Something simple because I think it gives kids more incentive to want to play. They’re teenagers and seeing your name in a newspaper goes a long way.”
“But something like this series is taking things in the right direction,” Canela said.
Chicago coach Dave Rosene hopes the attention garnered through playing a game on national TV can capture the attention of the next generation of ballplayers.
“Maybe some kids in 3rd grade who weren’t thinking of going into baseball will say, ‘hey I want to be like Team Chicago and play on TV’,” Rosene said.
Additionally, media exposure often plays a vital role in the college recruitment process for inner-city talent.
“As advanced as recruiting is, I can’t tell you how many coaches have called me and said, ‘We know you were here for Kevin Durant, but my other kids were able to get scholarships because they were on TV’,” Ghazi said.
Consequently, performing your best on national television on Thursday could be crucial in bolstering players’ recruiting stock.
“The type of exposure that they’re getting is really hard to get,” said Valdez. “This is a once in a lifetime opportunity.”