It wasn’t a mirage. We finally saw Black fans at a Minnesota Twins game.
Darnavus Martin and Keith Harden were with several buddies at the May 3 Twins-Texas game. “This is actually my second game” this season, admitted the 20-year-old Martin as he and Harden, age 19, talked to the MSR in between innings.
However, the two young men aren’t just causal baseball fans—Martin and Harden are first-year members of the St. Cloud Tech baseball team. Both are Florida natives—Deerfield Beach for the 5’-11” Martin, and the 6’-2” Harden is from Ruskin.
“What happened to Black baseball fandom?” asked Jahmal C. Williams recently in Captain Gambling.com. “There have been articles and articles and more articles written… We know that African Americans’ interest in baseball is steadily on the decline or remains stagnant.”
Williams said his parents and grandfather introduced him to baseball when he was very young. My father and uncle did the same for me when I was in grade school.
Williams played baseball through high school. I played it with neighborhood kids and played one year as a high school senior because an assistant football coach, who was named head baseball coach that year, asked me to.
“I know more people like me—Black baseball fans—exist,” stressed Williams.
Brandon Jones, an I Heart Radio sports producer, did a paper on the subject for his college journalism class but later revived it and ran it for Cronkite News. “My teacher suggested that I write an article about the lack of African American interest in baseball because we talked about the topic a few times during the semester,” he told the MSR.
“The article was not published anywhere until I decided last November to localize the story to Phoenix in order to have it published by Cronkite News, who I was writing for at the time.”
As with most articles, including those by this columnist, Jones found various reasons for the lack of Black baseball fans, mostly under the heading of “too boring.” He also noted that such Black MLB stars as Andrew McCutchen and Mookie Betts among others aren’t promoted like their basketball and football counterparts.
Betts was the first MLB player to win MVP, Silver Slugger, Gold Glove, batting title and the World Series in the same season (Boston, 2018). Two seasons later, Betts again won a Series, this time with the Los Angeles Dodgers.
Minnesota’s Byron Buxton, before he got injured last week, was having an MVP-like season but is relatively unknown among non-baseball fans. There’s a big downtown billboard for the Timberwolves’ Karl-Anthony Towns and rookie Anthony Edwards of the Timberwolves, one of the NBA’s worst teams this year. But none for Buxton, a member of two Twins division-winning teams, who was named American League Player of the Month.
“That’s still a question being debated right now,” noted St. Paul Saints outfielder Keon Broxton. He and infielder Nick Gordon are the team’s only Black players on the 40-man roster. “We are still trying to figure out what the problem is.
“A lot of Black players were just under-looked,” he said. “It’s a shame, because there are so many Black guys in the MLB in the first place. It’s really sad.”
Harden said Black stars are not promoted as they should be due to baseball’s stuffy nature. “I feel that [MLB] don’t let the players be fully themselves.”
At press time, our search for Black baseball fans—casual, serious or otherwise—takes us across the river to the St. Paul Saints’ May 11 home opener. We will keep you posted on what we find there.
Charles Hallman is a contributing reporter and award-winning sports columnist at the Minnesota Spokesman-Recorder.