Diversity Day honors Jackie Robinson at Target Field - KMSP-TV

Diversity Day honors Jackie Robinson at Target Field

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Thanks to the contributions of Jackie Robinson, baseball is now a global game -- and fans honored his memory at Diversity Day at Target Field on Monday.

Jackie Robinson was the first to break the race barrier, but a close look at the Twins' opening roster shows a sea of white faces except for rookie Aaron Hicks. On the college roster, Jordan Smith is the lone African American player on the Gopher baseball team.

That pattern is pretty much the same on High school baseball teams in the area, but it isn't just a Minnesota problem. Only 8 percent of Major League Baseball players are African American and studies show a continued decline, but one neighborhood program is helping kids in St. Paul and Minneapolis reverse that trend.

"Sometimes you just have to take that chance, go out there, play your game and be you," Keyante Welch told FOX 9 News.

Welch is part of the Twin Cities RBI Program, also known as Revitalizing Baseball in Inner Cities.

"Our program is one of the top 10 most recognized out of 200 connected to Major League Baseball," said Frank White, director of RBI.

White admits it's hard to pinpoint why more kids like Welch aren't taking part in America's favorite pastime, but he said money, transportation and places to play are all factors.

"I think part of the reason is kids just don't see African American players," he said. "They don't see the opportunity."

That's not true for Welch, who is an outfielder with his Roseville High School baseball team. He told FOX 9 News he definitely feels the appeal.

"I think it's one of the most interesting sports because you have to use your mind. You have to have power, speed -- the whole package," he said.

Now, Welch and his mother hope they will be part of the solution as they try to change the culture in their community. Breaking the color barrier was Jackie Robinson's legacy, and encouraging others to play baseball could be the start of a new one for Welch.

Despite the lack of African American players in the MLB, the majority of the top new talent is coming from Latin America and Asia.

Online resources:

- MLB Reviving Baseball in Inner Cities: http://web.mlbcommunity.org/index.jsp?content=programs&program=rbi

- Twins RBI: http://minnesota.twins.mlb.com/min/community/twins_rbi.jsp

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