Winning more than just a game

Jul. 06, 2014 @ 04:39 PM

It’s America’s pastime, and for many of Durham’s youth, baseball is a popular summer activity, one that some may not get the opportunity to participate in.
But in 2009, Pat James helped change that.
The Durham Long Ball program is in its sixth season, and just received the distinction of being a member of the “Reviving Baseball in Inner Cities” (RBI) program. Being part of the RBI gives players a leg up in the baseball world. They have increased chances of receiving scholarships to play baseball at a collegiate level.
Thanks to Pat James, the first season of the Long Ball program started in 2009, after her son, Lathan Nobles II, and his friends were told that the city leagues were not longer running for their age groups.
James decided to get the registration together for teams. That first year, the program only had four teams, now it has eight.
What makes the Long Ball program special though isn’t the number of games that teams have won, or the uniforms, but rather the people involved, and the impact the program has on players.
There is one requirement to play ball — be enrolled in school. That’s it.
“We’re trying to get them to be motivated to stay in school,” James said.
“They need an education, a lot of them were thinking that the skills would just get them through, but that’s really not the case.”
That requirement has made a difference. In that first year, two players returned to school to participate in the league. To her, that was one of her first successes.
This year, the program has about 120 players with 24 coaches. All coaches and staff members for the program are volunteers.
Jason Redmond is one of those volunteer coaches. Not only is he a coach, but Redmond’s son, Jalon also plays on one of the program’s teams.
Jalon Redmond has been playing with the Long Ball program since he was 13.  The 16-year-old plans on finishing the program, aging out at 18, and then eventually going to college to play either football or baseball and study exercise science. He keeps coming back every season because of the players, and the competition they supply.
“The people I’ve met playing, they’re just overall great people, they have places to go, and I see they’re doing great,” Jalon Redmond said. “(It) makes me want to come back and play them.”
For his father, Jason Redmond, coaching isn’t about the end goal of winning, but rather the opportunity to help the young men.
“It’s great to watch them grow and get better. We’re learning a lot of life lessons (on the diamond),” he said. “I am looking for them to become productive citizens in the United States of America.”
The drive also comes from the passion of the players, Jason Redmond said. Many of the players in the Long Ball program get sidelined on their school teams or don’t get to play a different position. Long Ball gives the players an opportunity to try a new position and play against other top-tier teams.
Jalon Redmond was known as an outfielder when he started playing on the Long Ball league, but playing in the summer league allowed him to learn a different position – pitcher.
“It’s allowed me to get better, I wasn’t known for pitching,” he said.
That passion and persistence helps Jason Redmond in his coaching.
“There are many days, I didn’t want to go to practice, but they come, so I come,” he said. “I see them coming back every day to play. ... I don’t see them dropping their head and quitting.”
That’s something James also focuses on when she works with the players.
“Most coaches focus on the teams and winning,” she said. “(We) focus on winning off of the field.”
For James winning off the field includes succeeding in the classroom, as well as learning respect and accountability.
“Now you see a sense of belonging, not only to the teammates, it’s like a family,” James said. “They do look out for one another. They’re all in the Long Ball family.”
And that newly acquired RBI status, is also enticing for coaches and players.
“I believe that every young male needs a college education,” Jason Redmond said. “Education changes lives.”
Frank Jacobs Jr., has been a longtime coach in the Durham community. James approached him when she first started the league to help coach. Now the 67-year-old keeps coaching to give the players an opportunity they wouldn’t otherwise have.
“It’s an opportunity for them, and an experience that many of them wouldn’t get,” Jacobs said. “It’s important to have somebody there to give quality guidance and training.”