One Duke employee is using America's pastime to give back to the Durham community.
Patricia James, a staff specialist at Duke’s Community Service Center, has been directing Durham's Triple Play Long Ball League since 2009, when Durham cancelled its inner-city baseball program. Along with 23 volunteer coaches and seven other volunteer staff members, she has kept the league going in order to provide opportunities for Durham’s underserved youth.
The league—which consists of 120 kids across seven teams—came under the umbrella of the Reviving Baseball in Inner Cities program three years ago to give the players more exposure to competitive play and provide them with scholarship opportunities to support their education.
The teams, which include three in the 13-15 age league and four in the 16-18 age league, travel to tournaments all around North Carolina.
James said that two of their teams won the RBI Carolina Cup tournament in early July, and they are currently preparing for the Mid-Atlantic regional in Maryland the weekend of July 21.
“What I loved most was that I met a lot of people and we traveled a lot," said Jalen Redmond, a recent graduate of Northern High School in Durham. "They’re just giving me great experiences and practice for the next level."
Redmond, who will play on the Grambling State University baseball team as a walk-on, expressed his gratitude to the league for increasing his confidence.
“It’s had a major impact because it gave me the confidence to believe that I could try out for Grambling and make it," he said. "It just helped to build my confidence up because during school coaches never really tell you how good you are. They just tell you to do this, that and the third, and they never really build up your confidence.”
Long Ball has also impacted players' lives off the field. According to James, the league has had tremendous success in encouraging their players’ to finish school and enter the workforce or attend college.
“Our first year in 2009, we had two kids that dropped out of school but asked to play. And I said, ‘Nope, if you go back to school you can play.’ They both went back to school and graduated and went to full-time jobs," James said. "Since the program started, each year we have had more and more graduate. This year we had 14 seniors and 13 of them are going to college. The 14th is going to truck-driving school."
James also expressed her hope of opening up an indoor facility with a tutoring center in the future. She plans to continue to work with the players to improve their education and baseball skills.
“There really is no indoor facility in Durham that we can utilize to work with them. Even in the winter and offseason, we want to still be able to work with them and keep them involved,” James said. “Our goal is to get kids off their feet and get them into some positive activity to occupy their minds.”
Christa Fullwood, a nursing student at Duke who played softball at her alma mater Gardner-Webb University, serves the league as an assistant coach for a 16-18 year old boys’ team.
“I think it’s been a great outlet for these guys," she said. "Some of them play school ball and some of them don’t, so for the ones who don’t play school ball it still gives them the chance to play competitively.”
Fullwood added that the league has been beneficial for the community as a whole. She noted that players' family members often attend the games, which creates a positive environment.
For James, the league has been a personal source of pride and joy.
“I had one son, but [the league] has blessed me with 120 more,” James said. “They’re doing something they’re passionate about, and it makes them passionate about school and everything else."
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