CHICAGO (CBS) — The Morgan Park Mustangs baseball program is getting a long-awaited upgrade. Its 103-year-old ballpark will be rebuilt to the thrill of everyone involved, and it might help reverse a trend.
On a recent weekday afternoon, the Mustangs took on the Kennedy Crusaders, but they were battling their own field as well.
The coaching staff works hard to make the field playable, but the needs are obvious. Players have to be careful, because there are lots of hazards to avoid, including a manhole cover in the outfield.
“If a guy steps in here, that’s an ACL; his career could be over with,” coach Ernest Radcliffe said.
The upgrades will be funded by an $87,000 donation from Chicago Cubs Charities. The money is expected to cover construction of a new infield, dugouts, a partial outfield renovation and possibly work on the bullpen and batting cages.
The new field won’t be ready for graduating seniors, but they’re no less thrilled.
“I’m happy for the younger class that’s coming up, because they can be excited playing on a new field,” Khyle Radcliffe said.
Radcliffe is headed to St. Louis University on a baseball scholarship after this season. Baseball is important at Morgan Park High School, but education comes first, and for African-American boys, basketball and football are often the preferred sport.
“The NBA Draft is coming up. They publicize that real big. You see Zion [Williamson] everywhere. Michael Jordan was everywhere. The NFL, they publicize that really big,” Coach Radcliffe said.
The donation for a new field is part of the Diamond Project Initiative, which expands opportunities for youth in underserved communities to play baseball and softball.
Black player representation in Major League Baseball was more than 18% in the 1980s, but is down to less than 7% in 2019.
“Probably what they need to do is maybe take some of their African American players and really push them out, marketing-wise,” Coach Radcliffe said.
The Mustangs can’t wait for work to begin on the new field later this month.
“I’m very excited. I went home and jumped and screamed, because it’s a blessing to get a new field,” freshman Jacobey Radcliffe said.
Morgan Park sophomore Daryl Lloyd III said he’s been playing on the Morgan Park field since he was little.
“I finally get to see it new. It’s going to be great,” he said.
Eventually, the Mustangs also will need bleachers, netting to stop foul balls, a scoreboard and pressbox and a renovation of the entire outfield. They are applying for another grant, and asking alumni to help.