The Players Alliance tour comes to St. Louis

Athletes give back to community with food, gear and more

December 17th, 2020

ST. LOUIS -- Shortly before 11 a.m. CT on Wednesday, a big, black semi-truck adorned with the logos of The Players Alliance and Pull Up Neighbor parked on a side street off Gravois Avenue in St. Louis, ready to deliver food, gear and more to the cars that were lining up down the street.

Volunteers unloaded boxes and bags, music pumped out of speakers and in the middle of it all was Brewers reliever Devin Williams, the 2020 National League Rookie of the Year Award winner and a St. Louis native, packing the goods into cars driving by.

“It’s always a pleasure to give back … let alone other places, but this has a special place in my heart,” Williams said. “It means a lot. I made sure St. Louis was on the list.”

That list is for a 33-city tour that The Players Alliance and Pull Up Neighbor -- a Black-owned community response team -- is conducting over the next two months. Pull Up Neighbor has been providing resources to cities around the country after recognizing the need during the coronavirus pandemic. In Los Angeles, Mookie Betts helped them pass out masks and other supplies, and their relationship with the Dodgers star gave way to the partnership with The Players Alliance, which kicked off the tour earlier this month.

“Our mission is to give back to Black communities,” Pull Up Neighbor co-founder Curtis Hamilton said. “We want to encourage these young Black kids to play baseball. We want to encourage them to be safe during these troubled times of COVID. We’re trying to embody everything that’s going on right now.”

St. Louis is the 11th stop on the tour, and Williams -- who lives in his hometown during the offseason -- made sure he was available to participate. The 26-year-old burst onto the scene this year as one of the best relievers in baseball -- and as a voice in Milwaukee’s clubhouse, especially when the team was deciding whether to play its game against the Reds on Aug. 26 after Jacob Blake was shot by police in Kenosha, Wisc. Williams recently talked to The Athletic’s Marc Carig about that conversation with his teammates and about growing up as a Black man in St. Louis.

It’s clear that Williams wants to make an impact.

“That’s the goal, right?” Williams said. “We’re out here trying to actually make a difference and not just talking about it. Putting money into action. I think that’s a good first step.”

In the wake of George Floyd’s death and civil unrest across the country this summer, more than 100 current and former professional Black baseball players formed a nonprofit called The Players Alliance, a group united to use their voices and platforms to give back to the Black community.

When Major League Baseball celebrated Jackie Robinson Day in August, members of The Players Alliance donated their game-day salaries to the nonprofit to aid programs combating racial inequality. MLB has since donated an additional $1 million worth of supplies and baseball equipment, and the league and the MLB Players Association have pledged $10 million to The Players Alliance over the next five years, aiming to build Black participation in the sport, from front offices to the diamond.

“That’s a big step to get them involved,” Williams said. “I think it’s necessary. Something that should have happened a while ago, but we’re here now.”

The money that The Players Alliance raised then is now being put back into the communities on its Pull Up Neighbor tour.

St. Louis’ stop had two locations, first on Gravois Avenue and later at the 100 Black Men of Metropolitan St. Louis building on Delmar Boulevard, which had cars lined up for blocks. Those driving or walking by received food, COVID-19 supplies and baseball equipment. The Cardinals donated bags of giveaway items to be handed out, too.

Rangers pitcher Kyle Gibson and James Proctor, a pitcher in the Reds' organization who is from St. Louis, also helped with Williams on Wednesday.

“It’s beautiful,” Hamilton said. “To see some of these top-tier athletes come out and lend their support, to be here to give stuff out -- these kids are going to walk away with lasting memories and encouragement to want to play this great game of baseball. Not a lot of people come back to these communities and do something. So to have this now, it’s going to make an impact, not just with kids, but with people who don’t have a lot.”

Giving away baseball equipment is especially important for The Players Alliance, as part of its mission is to grow Black participation in the game. Williams hopes the opportunity to put a bat, glove or ball in a kid’s hand opens a door to playing that they might not have otherwise had.

“That’s what it’s all about, giving kids a chance to play,” Williams said. “A lot of people get priced out of this game. The way that it’s oriented toward summer-ball teams now, they can’t afford that. That’s why I think it’s important to give out some gear, so that cost is taken away, so they can now go out and practice with their friends or whoever.

“It needs to be a collective effort from all of us, but I don’t think you can put a measure on it. It’s one of those things where you don’t know the value that it has until 20 years down the road, but maybe we’ll make an impact with some of these kids in St. Louis and get them on a baseball field. Most kids here play football and basketball. That’s just what it is, because those are sports they can afford. We’re just trying to make it more accessible to them, encourage them to get involved with the game.”