For Bookie Gates, founder of Baseball Beyond Borders (BBB), it’s as simple as that. Focused on making baseball accessible to approximately 200 youth athletes at a time, BBB was launched in 2014 with one very important goal: providing access to the sport of baseball to Seattle’s underserved youth of color. BBB was formerly named Chaffey Baseball Inner-City.
The gift of the game
Gates, a former professional baseball player, joined forces with former Seattle Mariners catcher Dan Wilson to spread their love of the game and educate young people on the troubled history of race and baseball.
As a sports-based community development organization, BBB affords families and communities the opportunity to expose youth to critical skills necessary for life through participation in baseball.
A trip to remember
Last year, Gates and Wilson took a young baseball team and camera crew from Seattle to Mississippi to play ball with underserved kids from that region of the country and explore the legacy of slavery in Alabama at the Equal Justice Initiative Museum and Memorial and the National Memorial for Peace and Justice.
What came out of that physical and emotional journey is “Reconciliation Tour,” a 28-minute documentary that began streaming in February on all Alaska Airline in-flight entertainment systems. “Reconciliation Tour” features 16 Seattle athletes and their five coaches, all members of the BBB Kings baseball team.
A short, powerful film
The opening scenes of “Reconciliation Tour” bring viewers into a baseball clinic where the young Seattle players learn and play the game with kids from Jackson, Mississippi. Jackson has one of the highest poverty rates in the nation and made headlines last year for its drinking water crisis.
Though short, the film is a sweet, insightful look at the life-altering experience of the trip for both the Seattle players and the Mississippi cohort. Throughout the film the players discuss their journey and discover the off-field values baseball instills through the compassionate tutelage of their coaches.
Difficult history lessons
There are moments of gravity in the film. The kids meet activist and author Anthony Ray Hinton, who lived for years on Alabama’s death row but was freed when evidence of his innocence was uncovered. But even that discussion is counterbalanced with plenty of levity. Kids will be kids, no matter where they live, and that is what “Reconciliation Tour” highlights alongside its deeper moral messages..
“Pain, passion and purpose,” Gates says in the film. “That’s what Baseball Beyond Borders was built on.”
Baseball Beyond Borders built from experience
Gates, who grew up in Seattle’s Central District, is building what the community lacked when he was a child. When he was a child his community didn’t have adequate playing fields or public transportation options to help kids get around. As Gates leads his Seattle team through the four-day intensive camp of the film, he is hopeful they will realize that there is life outside the Pacific Northwest. He hopes they come to understand that their history as Black Americans may be painful, but it can give them a purpose as they grow into adults. The team and the documentary close the trip with a visit to crucial civil rights historic locations in Selma and Montgomery, Alabama.
Viewed at 33,000 feet
“Reconciliation Tour” first premiered at T-Mobile Park last September, but Gates says Alaska Airlines offering “Reconciliation Tour” to its 44 million yearly customers has helped spread the word about BBB and its mission.
“We’re seeing more interest in the advocacy efforts,” said Gates. “People are seeing the plight we have to go through to make baseball and softball viable options. That’s been the uphill climb since we began 15 years ago, knowing that the gaps in play, the disparities of who has access to play are still prevalent. They are racially predictable. African-Americans are still not getting the same access to play at higher levels.”
The future for BBB
As Baseball Beyond Borders grows and expands, Gates says he hopes to expand programming to include a softball team and work to address the gender inequity in sports.
In the meantime, the Kings say they plan to return to Mississippi next summer to play again with their new-found baseball friends. In doing so, they hope to follow up that first-hit baseball solidarity with the homerun of lifelong friendship.
View the film
The film can now be viewed on producer Converge Media’s website and Youtube.
More at Seattle’s Child:
“Beyond soccer: Your kids might light these non-traditional sports”