Dunn, Mariners salute Negro Leagues

Righty promotes club's On BASE Hometown Nine program

August 16th, 2020

With Major League Baseball celebrating the 100-year anniversary of the founding of the Negro Leagues on Sunday, Mariners pitcher Justin Dunn appreciates the growing conversation and attention on the need to encourage more African American participation in the current game.

But the 24-year-old hurler wants to do more than talk about the issue, so Dunn is eager to promote the Mariners' new On BASE Hometown Nine program that will help pay for equipment, travel and training for African American kids from underserved communities who want to play baseball and softball.

“I think they’re on the right track of doing something really special,” Dunn said via video conference from Houston, where the Mariners wrapped a three-game series on Sunday. “Travel ball itself is something that is very expensive -- even baseball in general, as a sport. In basketball, you need a ball and some sneakers and a couple buddies and you can go play at any school or park near your house.

“That’s first and foremost why basketball and football have been growing so big in our community. When you look at travel ball, you’re paying for a bat, a ball, a glove, uniforms, tournaments, hotels, travel, flights. I remember my parents spending upward of sometimes $5,000 a summer for me to just play, and not a lot of people are fortunate enough to do that. I was blessed my parents were able to make some sacrifices for me to go for my dream and do something I was passionate about.”

Dunn wants more African American youth to have a chance to pursue that dream. He’s proud to be a part of a Mariners team with 10 Black players on its 40-man roster, the most in MLB. But he knows that is an anomaly, as only 7.8% of the players on Opening Day rosters around the league were African American, and he says its critical for youngsters to be able to watch a big league game and see Black players succeeding at the highest level.

“There are so many African Americans playing basketball and football that kids today can see, ‘Hey, I can do this in this sport.’ But when you turn on a baseball game and there may be one or two on a field, they start to sit back and think maybe this one is harder,” Dunn said. “Again, it goes back to social and economic aspects of getting it into those communities and inner-cities, where it’s harder to put nine players on a field at the same time. But definitely, I think there’s a huge aspect in being able to look up and see someone who looks like you doing the same thing.”

Dunn wants to put words into action, knowing firsthand what it means to have a role model from his own days playing youth ball growing up in Connecticut.

“It’s nice to get those kids out there and play,” Dunn said. “But for me, whenever I would see an African American, whenever I got to see [Cubs outfielder] Jason Heyward -- I was close to his family -- and see that he could do it, it gives you something to strive for and be able to have those conversations with someone who is on the journey and done it and can show you it’s physically possible if you believe in it.

“So it’s not only getting them to play, but having us as African American players go out -- at some point when COVID lifts -- and get into the facilities with them and teach them and just give them some reinforcement along the way. That can go a very long way.”

All MLB players and coaches are wearing Negro Leagues 100th anniversary patches during Sunday’s game, and the Mariners are using the occasion to open the application program for their On BASE (Baseball and Softball Everywhere) Hometown Nine program, which will provide five-year commitments to players from eighth grade through their senior year in high school.

Interested applicants can apply at mariners.com/hometownnine through Sept. 7.

Short takes
Mariners manager Scott Servais said starting pitcher 's neck was beginning to feel better on Sunday morning after the lefty had to skip his Friday start in Houston. But at this point, Kikuchi will likely be held out of the rotation until his normal turn comes up again, which would be Thursday against the Dodgers in Seattle.