All good things must come to an end. And so it was with the 2018 season for the Mamie Johnson Little League baseball team from the District of Columbia. This intrepid group of 12 young ballplayers had captured the city championship on July 24, making it the first predominantly African American team to do so in the 31-year history of the tournament. That victory entitled the team to a trip to Little League’s Mid-Atlantic regional tournament in Bristol, Connecticut, and a chance for even more glory at the Little League World Series. However, on Tuesday, the Mamie Johnson squad lost to Berlin, Maryland, 18-7, which eliminated the team from the competition.

Nevertheless, there is a lot to celebrate. District-based teams have made the regional tournament before. (We’re rooting for two squads from our area, the aforementioned Berlin, Maryland, group and one from Loudoun County, that remain in the running for the World Series.) But they have tended to come from wealthier, whiter areas of the city. The Mamie Johnson Little League team’s success shows that the national pastime is for everyone, everywhere. Indeed, defying stereotypes about who plays what, where, is part of the league’s heritage: Mamie Johnson, who died last year at 82, was one of three women to play professionally in the Negro leagues, and the only female pitcher.

It took planning, money and effort to bring high-quality youth baseball to a section of the city historically underserved by such programs. For that, credit is due not only to the team’s parents and coaches but also to the Washington Nationals. The team established a state-of-the-art Youth Baseball Academy in Southeast Washington, with the support of Major League Baseball and the players’ union, and partnered with the Mamie Johnson Little Leaguers. Participants receive not only baseball skills training but also educational support and other counseling. Once they earned their trip to the regionals, the Mamie Johnson team benefited from an outpouring of financial support from across the city to help pay for it. Baltimore Orioles star Adam Jones chipped in $8,500, explaining that it was part of his effort to boost African-American participation in a sport that has seen a decline in the percentage of blacks playing at the highest level. “I want to see the next generation get an opportunity to succeed,” he said. Mamie Johnson’s championship run ended at the regionals in 2018. Wait till next year!


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