MIAMI -- Growing up in South Florida, Marlins outfielder Lewis Brinson was one of two African American baseball players from his Little League days through high school.
"I was always the one standing out," Brinson said. "Everybody would always look at me. I was usually the fastest one on the team, jump higher. I was always tall, lanky. I stood out. It was great for me.
"But we want to get more Black players starting younger in South Florida. That's the goal we have, getting kids interested in baseball."
Brinson put his words into action on Tuesday afternoon at Gibson Park in Miami's Overtown neighborhood as part of the latest stop in the Pull Up Neighbor Tour hosted by The Players Alliance. He was joined by teammates Monte Harrison and Jazz Chisholm, members of the Marlins' organization, and South Florida area players like Gio González, Jon Jay and Jackie Bradley Jr..
The Players Alliance, a nonprofit organization started six months ago that has the involvement of 150 current and former players, has donated more than $41.7 million to Black communities across the country. Its latest initiative -- the Pull Up Neighbor Tour in partnership with Black-owned community response team Pull Up Neighbor -- is visiting 33 cities over two months to provide baseball equipment, PPE products and food to underserved communities. Attendees, including players on the Everglades High baseball team, also received Marlins baseball caps and shirts along with bottles of hand sanitizer on Tuesday.
"We need to understand what 'Pull Up Neighbor' means and how it's going to affect our neighborhood and how we're trying to get our sport relevant in our neighborhoods," said MLB Network analyst Cliff Floyd, who was also in attendance with former Marlins teammate Charles Johnson. "The only way to do that is to show face.
"Before I retired, it was starting to be something that was being implemented. Showing face allows our kids in the community to see what we're trying to achieve and what we're trying to get to. ... We're all doing this for one reason: to build up our communities and build up the confidence to know this is a tremendous game."
During the 2020 season, the Marlins placed a Black Lives Matter banner above center field at Marlins Park and walked off the field after observing a 42-second moment of silence on the eve of Jackie Robinson Day. Brinson punctuated the protest by placing a Black Lives Matter T-shirt atop home plate at Citi Field.
Marlins CEO Derek Jeter, who is part of The Players Alliance's MLB club owner advisory committee, was among those in attendance. That involvement hasn't gone unnoticed by the players.
"Talk's been talked about for a long time now," said Harrison, who was a multisport athlete in high school and chose to play baseball. "A lot has to go into play. There needs to be things that go into action, and the Miami Marlins' organization -- you're starting to see it. And it's not just our team, it's multiple teams in the league. There's definitely a change that's going to be happening."
According to its website, The Players Alliance is focused on building equitable systems in order to change the trajectory of diversity throughout baseball. It seeks to improve representation of Black Americans in all levels of the game -- from the field to front office.
The Players Alliance president and former Marlin Curtis Granderson, who participated in the Chicago event last month, is encouraged by the progress made by the organization in such a short amount of time. The most pleasant surprise -- in his opinion -- has been the conversation's continuation.
"That was one of the big concerns was once a big thing happens in this world -- the election, other sports start back up, things start to kind of open up, the light at the end of the tunnel -- this big event, this big story, this big idea which the Players Alliance is somewhat aligned with will just be forgotten," Granderson said last week via phone.
"That was great that we did have this big social movement and protests and voice for change, and now, 'Let's get back to normal and forget that and eventually we'll get to that.' That hasn't happened, and a number of people again that aren't just Alliance members that are reaching out or asking ways to get involved to help this, to join up to continue to keep it going is amazing because that was my biggest fear when this all happened in the summer.
"Everyone optimistically goes, 'We're going to get to the end of this year soon, the pandemic, and we're going to get back to normal, and what does normal look like?' And I hope it didn't forget this. And as of now, six months in, we're still on people's mind, we're still having an impact, and that has been the biggest accomplishment to this point that I really have enjoyed and I'm glad that we've been able to do."