Strawberry Mansion: All Stars Play Ball Through It All

A player on the Little B.I. team behind the backstop.
The pitcher for the Big Legends throws the first pitch.
The pitcher for the Big Legends throws the first pitch.

By 5 p.m. the sun was still scorching the kids wearing their uniforms in the playoff game between the two co-ed teams: the Little B.I.s and the Big Legends.

The first pitch bounced slightly in front of the plate and glided into the catcher’s mitt. On the second pitch, Kahaliff Lisby swung and missed the ball just by a second. On the third, he hit a ground ball and swiftly ran to first base. His smile beamed across the entire field.

“Throw a fast ball,” Ford screamed at “Breeze,” the pitcher for the Big Legends. Leaning behind the backstop, Derrick “Rick” Ford, who founded the All-Stars League in Strawberry Mansion three summers ago, believes it saves young lives and keeps kids off the streets.  “He’s a good kid,” said Ford, “they are all good kids and they are doing something positive.”

a player from the Little B. I.'s selects a helmet before stepping up to the plate.
A player from the Little B. I.s selects a helmet before stepping up to the plate.

The road to starting the Little League was not easy. The field needed leveled and the base paths lined. The Phillies donated equipment, uniforms and money to turn the weed-overgrown field into a baseball diamond. David Lisby, who became the baseball commissioner, is affectionately known as “Itchy” to the people of Strawberry Mansion.

In 2007, Ford distributed 200 fliers throughout Strawberry Mansion. inviting everybody to the Opening Day Ceremony at 10 a.m. on June 2 to the baseball field on 33rd and Diamond streets.

Everyone came out, except a baseball player who was close to Ford. A block away from 33rd and Diamond streets, a teen on the baseball team was shot several times. Ford went to the hospital to visit the wounded boy. Ford asked the injured player, “Why were you not at the game?” The boy responded, “I was out gambling with my friends. I should have come down the street to where you guys were.”

Life is all about choices and decisions. Unfortunately, living in such a rough neighborhood, some of the kids make decisions that bring the police to their houses delivering tragic news of arrest or death.

An outfielder for the Big Legends prepares to make a catch.
An outfielder for the Big Legends prepares to make a catch.

Today, teammates work together to teach one another discipline, family values, unity and self confidence through the baseball program. “For two hours the kids are out here with us and away from gun shots. They are away from violence,” said Ford.

Drugs and guns still rule neighborhood streets, which are marked with abandoned houses, graffiti and trash-strewn lots.

Theresa Ford, the block and Town Watch captain of Van Pelt Street between Diamond and Susquehanna, acknowledges Strawberry Mansion has great neighbors. They look out for each other. “The Town Watch people in this neighborhood keep the crime to a minimum, clean up the area and help the kids,” said Theresa Ford.

According to the Philadelphia CrimeBase, there were 10 graffiti incidents in Strawberry Mansion in 2006, 408 vandalism and criminal mischief accounts, and 509 incidents of robbery and aggravated assault.

Anthony Murphy looks out of his office window.
Anthony Murphy looks out of his office window.

“We don’t resolve issues with our hands or our brains anymore. We get a gun and go resolve the issue,” said Anthony Murphy, the executive director at the Town Watch Integrated Services, who grew up in Strawberry Mansion. He works directly with police officers as the eyes and ears of the neighborhoods in Philadelphia.

The Town Watch Program allows residents in the neighborhood to make a difference in the community. Davis admitted that guns and drugs are much more prevalent in Strawberry Mansion. There is a need to teach children in the neighborhood the importance of being safe and not being influenced by violence.

Murphy has prevented some fights and shootings, and even assisted in arrests for murders. He makes a difference in the community, but it’s not just him. It’s the police and the residents. “Teach our children to solve problems other than through violence. People say our children are our future,” said Murphy, “Let me clarify a moment—our children are our present. That’s how they get to be the future.”

A player on the Little B.I. team behind the backstop.
A player on the Little B.I. team behind the backstop.

The baseball teams keep the kids from following the footsteps of older kids who are out on the streets causing problems. “The kids know all know the rules,” said Itchy. “They will play as long as they show up for practice, don’t curse and abide at school and at home.

The 8- to 12-year-old Rookie League has nine teams comprised of 15 players. One of the first tasks each team must undertake is the simple decision of picking a name. The 13- to 16-year-olds have their own RBI League (Reviving Baseball in Inner Cities) known as the All-Stars.

A sign on 33rd and Diamond Streets displaying the league's motto.
A sign on 33rd and Diamond streets displaying the league’s motto.

Ford’s coaches share his sense of importance about saving kids’ lives. The assistant commissioner, Karen Washington, grew up on 29th street near Diamond near Ford. “Everyday you’re seeing the kids do good things. This baseball league has a great impact on them. Even on no game days or in the rain, they pick up equipment. It’s good for them not to be running in the streets,” said Washington.

Ford’s mission is about keeping kids safe. Sitting on the bleachers at what was once a vacant baseball field at 33rd and Diamond streets, Ford fights back tears. “You have to give them love. I tell them I love them each day; I wasn’t hearing that in my house. They probably never heard the word either,” said Ford.

players on the Little B.I. team watch the game.
Players on the Little B.I. team watch the game.

Itchy’s nephew, Kahaliff Lisby, looks forward to the summer when he can play ball with his friends. He is 12 years old and loves to pitch. “If you don’t have nothing to do, you can come out here and be with your friends,” said Kahaliff Lisby, “I feel safe here.”

One mother brings her daughter to the field to play in the game. The mother looked over at Ford and said, “I now know where my daughter is at all times.”

Ford prays to keep the crime down in Strawberry Mansion. “I’m praying for the kids that don’t have an outlook. They don’t have somewhere to go and nine times out of 1o they are going to wind up in some place they shouldn’t and that will lead to a sad ending.”

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